Saturday, December 29, 2012

Seeding the Future

Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet under the age of 57 are gathering in Perú January 3-5 to build relationships among ourselves and to have something to say to our Congregational chapter next summer. Sisters are already beginning to gather, I will travel on December 31 in order to join the group. You can read the ongoing posts from the meeting at this website: Little Design.
It is always a tremendously energizing experience for us to gather and to share experience, hopes and dreams. Say a prayer for the gathering and follow the ongoing conversations.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Melted Wax, New Wicks, Blazing Fire

From Sr. Sara P. Marks OSF:
A thought recently happened upon me as I was considering my call to religious life.  The 1950’s are far behind us and who knows if there will ever come a time when religious communities will see those numbers again.  I am well aware of the statistics of my aging community, how significantly different--and specifically smaller--we will be ten to fifteen years from now.  This is not just our reality, this is the reality of religious life today. +Read more....
Thanks Sara 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Beguines IV

The image to the left is a satellite image of a Beguinage. It shows a small neighborhood - a small subdivision by today's standards. I drew in the boundaries in blue. The earliest dwellings on this site would have been constructed of wood and straw and are no longer present. The earliest of the current buildings is the Church which dates from the 16th century and still functions as a church today. The current dwellings were build in the 16th century and have been preserved over the centuries since, though some were lost in various wars and battles.All the photos on this site are from Beguinage at Leuven.  They are now rehabbed for university housing for KU Leuven. For more photos, click here.
The life of the beguines was somewhat anomalous for the medieval period. Women were able to come together in communities with a good deal of autonomy from male domination. As a child, a girl was under her father, till she married when she was under her husband. If she chose to enter a monastery, the community was lead by sisters from that community. However, at the time, every women's community had to be under the authority of an external male superior. This was generally the abbot of a men's monastery.
While this sounds quite patronizing by today's standards, there was at least some concern at the time for the men to ensure the protection and support of the women's monastery and to administer the sacraments which could only be done by male priests. Generally the men had more access to education and the politics and commerce of the day were very much a men's world. However, there were also examples of the less admirable side of this arrangement, keeping women in their lower place in church and society.
The beguinage would have been in contrast to this social order. Women sought entrance into the community which was governed by exclusively. After a time in residency, under the closer supervision of an experienced Beguine, she would build her own dwelling, with the help of her family. On her death, this would become the property of the Beguine community. Alternatively, a woman might acquire one of the existing dwellings or a room in such a space. The Beguines elected their own leadership from among their members and had a governing council that met to address issues of the community.
It is not well known why the beguines lasted as long as they did or why or how they resisted incorporation into the recognized forms of religious life at the time. The beguines, both individually and as a group, were condemned as heretics and suppressed by various popes and councils, beginning in 1312 with the Council of Vienna. The cause of concern was generally either because they were centers of mysticism or because of severe ascetical practices. These condemnations were sometimes withdrawn. In any case, the movement flourished up to the protestant reformation. After that time, the movement continued up to our own day; the last Beguines died in the mid to late 20th century.
As the movement was waning, apostolic religious life was getting its start in various parts of Europe. Women's apostolic religious life is very much in the spiritual tradition of the Beguines. Both sought to live a deep spirituality and to serve the social needs of those about them, to feed the poor, heal the sick and educate children. Both sought to do so outside the strict cloistered life that was required of women religious at the time. They sought ways to balance their internal autonomy with the requirements of external pressures by church and society.
As women's religious life is again facing a turning point, due to internal and external pressures, we may find it helpful to turn to our Beguine sisters for inspiration.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Forever Sisters....

An open letter to Sister Sarah Heger, CSJ who made final profession as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet in the St. Louis Province today:

Dear Sarah,

Today, you will become in a formal way my "forever sister." I know that you have been walking this path for years and years and have been growing in this relationship. But today bears witness to how far you have come.

There is something beautiful and mysterious about your lifetime commitment. This is also true for other serious life commitments, such as marriage. You are saying a yes that holds nothing back, that is committed and ever growing, ever evolving.

When you talked about songs for your ceremony, you talked about "No Turning Back". That is a scary and amazing thing to say. It always has been, and always will be. That's why its the subject of songs and art and poetry. It's bigger than the word and than the moment of commitment. It's even bigger than the life you are committing. It touches into the bigness of God who is Love. You bring us all to the edge of that cliff and invite us to jump, to throw caution to the wind. You invite us to be the best of ourselves, you invite us into a Godly Love.

I pray that the joy and sacredness of this moment can be always with you and with us as we journey together. I look forward to it, and with you I renew my commitment to this path with all of its unknowns.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Beguines - III (Spirituality)

Having examined some of the historical and societal aspects of the Beguines, I would like to turn to the spirituality this week. I think it' important to remember that this movement had deep spiritual underpinnings and contributed to the mystical flowering of the middle ages.
One writer that comes out of this tradition is Beatrice of Nazareth. To be honest, she was a Cistercian Nun, but she was educated by the Beguines before joining the Cistercians, and for some time it was believed that her Seven Manners of Holy Love written by a Beguine. It has been seen as a good example of Beguine Spirituality.
Beatrice points to seven ways of loving God, alternating between the intense experience of the presence of God and the profound experience of a felt absence of God. I quote some passages below, and then give a link to the whole brief text. It is a lovely way to begin Advent.
From the highest come seven ways of love which work back to the highest. 
This is the first way of love. The first is a desire actively originating from love. Long has this desire to rule in the heart before she can dispel every resistance thoroughly, and she cannot but work with strenght and intelligence, and courageously grow in this.
The second way of love: Now and then the soul has another way of love. Then she serves the Lord for nothing, only from love, without any why and without any reward of mercy or of bliss.
The third way of love: Sometimes the good soul has another way of love connected to much pain and misery. ...She knows all right that this desire is only to fulfil far above her power and above human reason and above every notion ; yet she cannot moderate this desire, or conquer, or quiet. She does everything she can ; she thanks and praises love, she works and drudges because of love, she sighing desires love, she gives herself completely to love. And all that does not give her peace.
The fourth way of love. It happens that love is sweetly been awakened in the soul and happily raises, and that she moves in the heart, without any help of human effort. And so the heart is been tenderly touched by love, and so full of strong desire been pulled inside love, and so hearty seized by love, and so strongly dominated by love, and so lovely contained by love, that she is completely conquered by love.
The fifth way of love. She desires to rest in the sweet embraces of love, in the desirable beatitude and in the satisfaction of what she has from Him. Her heart and her senses seriously look for it and ardently desire for it. In this state she is so powerful of mind, very undertaking of heart and strong of body, so fast in working and busy inside and outside, that it seems to her as if everything that has to do with her works and is busy, even if she is so calm from the outside.
The sixth love: When the bride of our Lord has made progress and has climbed up to greater salvation, she experiences yet another way of love, closely connected and with higher knowledge. She feels that love has conquered all resistance in her, and that she has recovered all shortcomings and has brought her into her power. Without resistance she has mastered herself, so that she knows her heart is safe and she can use it in peace and she can freely lay herself out.
The seventh way of love: ... There, the soul is with her Groom and she becomes totally one spirit with Him, in inseparable loyalty and in mutual love for ever. The soul that, in times of mercy, wanted to do everything for Him shall enjoy Him in eternal glory, where one shall do nothing else but praise and love. May God bring us all to that.
Read the whole text here: Seven Manners of Holy Love
This deep spiritual experience of immersion in the God of Love was at the heart of the spirituality of the Beguines which Beatrice learned as a child when she was educated by the Beguines. Next week, we'll look further into this fascinating movement.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Thanks for this from Juliet Mousseau:

In the past months, the theme that keeps finding me is vulnerability—but not necessarily as a bad thing.  How can that possibly be?  It first found me when I read an article by the English theologian Sarah Coakley, who spoke of prayer as vulnerability.  She explains that she herself was transformed by her prayer.  Her silent prayer allowed God’s word to work in her, to transform her understanding (as it so often does, if we only let it)
Vulnerability requires us to relinquish control.  We risk losing what we have and facing something completely unknown.  We want God in our lives, but in a way that allows us to do the planning, to control the relationship so it suits our desires.  It doesn’t always work like that, though God certainly wants us to be our best unique selves and to be happy.  In our relationship with God, we are not in control.
But, really, we do not control any of our relationships.  Each one of them must be a place of vulnerability, where we open ourselves to be known and changed by another person.  We do that daily with the women in our communities by sharing our lives with one another.  We love our sisters, and in loving them, we allow ourselves to be shaped and transformed by them in unexpected ways.  
Whether we like it or not, religious life is in a vulnerable state right now.  It’s not specifically about aging populations or that horrible word, “diminishment.”  Instead, our vulnerability now lies in our uncertainty about the future and our lack of control over what will happen.  When we can fully embrace that, when we can be fully open to our places of vulnerability, then God can work freely in us.  God can and will transform religious life in ways that we are incapable of imagining.
In this month of November, we take time to give thanks for all the ways that God has touched our lives and provided what we need.  We remember the gifts we have been given – the food on our table, the love of our families, the companionship of our sisters, our good health and moments of healing.  These are our memories of God’s fidelity to us, a way for us to strengthen the faith it takes to become vulnerable again and again, to God and to the people we care about.  
May we allow God to work in our vulnerability, creating anew religious life for a glorious future.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Beguines - II

The Beguine movement began with medieval women who devoted themselves to prayer and good works at a time when many men were lost in wars and in the Crusades. This left many single women and widows. Some entered convents, however, each convent had to be under the supervision of men's monasteries, and some men's communities refused to take on these responsibilities. And some women might not have been drawn to the strict cloister; some families might not have been able to afford the doweries required at the time.
Women began to take up a life of prayer and service independently. The movement was an attractive option in the particular historical context. The women lived alone or in small groups, and as more gathered, they formed villages of beguines with loose organization.
The brick and mortar evidence of the movement are these villages, called Beguinage in French or Begijnhof in Dutch, which are more or less extensive villages of small houses where the beguines lived. The homes are surrounded by a wall with an entrance gate. No men were allowed in the Beguinage which was organized and governed by women. Most of the Beguinages had their church, some had several churches. Some also had a school house or a house to take care of the sick, or the elderly, though not a hospital in the modern sense. Rows of houses lined narrow streets of their medieval villages.
The movement began in the 11th century and spread rapidly throughout the Low Countries and eventually reached across northern Europe. Some of the villages had nearly a thousand women living in them.
The women did not profess vows and they had no unifying rule. Instead each Beguinage developed its own style of life and of government. For example, some Beguinages welcomed only women from the higher classes, others were open to women of the lower classes. These local rules were characterized by moderation and pragmatism. The literature from the time indicates that the beguines practiced voluntary poverty in which they avoided riches, but also avoided destitution. Their witness was a striking contrast to the riches of monastic foundations of their day and to the pomp of ecclesiastical lifestyles. The implicit critique of their lifestyle along with eclecticism of some beguines provoked the ire of clerics of the day.
Beguines also developed a characteristic spirituality which I will examine in succeeding posts.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Beguines - I

Then and Now...

Simple lives: a new beginning for the Beguines?

I ran across this article from Commonweal from 2009. I missed the original publication, but I would like to respond now.

 While I was studying theology and canon law, I had the opportunity to live in Belgium for a few years, It was a great opportunity on many levels and I really appreciate my time there.

File:Begijnhofleuven2007aug1.jpgFile:Leuven-Groot-Begijnhof.jpgOne of the great privileges of that time was the opportunity to become more familiar with the Beguine movement in its native region in the Low Countries. In the area where I lived each town had its town square, church, city hall and beguinage (begijnhof). The images here are from the Grote Begijnhof in Leuven where I lived. They are the brick and mortar remnants of a movement that lasted nearly 1000 years, spread through much of northern Europe and influenced life and spirituality at the time. Writings of Beguines continue to influence spirituality today.

The essence of the life of the beguines was women who devote their lives to good works, quiet contemplation and living out their spiritual values. They found that a loose community structure enabled them to support each other in an era where single women were quite vulnerable.

With this post, I begin a series on the beguines, their historical reality, the current resurgence of the movement and what this all may have to contribute to the conversation on the future of religious life.

Anyone who would like to contribute to this series, let me know and I can put your post into the conversation.

Peace, Amy

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Nuns Not On The Bus

Sisternews passed on the link to this story from Religion and Politics:

Nuns Not On The Bus

For the Dominicans, Catholicism functions as a boat, one with high walls that protects and carries you, while for the Sisters of St. Joseph, the church is a life jacket, something that travels easily and lets you look around. But although they use their religion in different ways, the nuns were all among the best people I had met in a long time. They were smart, cheerful, and authentic, not vain.

And brave. Sisters in both congregations told me their parents were shocked by their decisions—even those who became nuns back in 1960, when all good Catholics were supposed to want to give a daughter or a son to the church. At least for a middle-class girl from a proper New England town, whether Sister Jane or Sister Anna, it was always unusual to commit so much to the church. It was never an ordinary calling. Even those nuns who eschew left-wing politics are radicals indeed, for in our age it has always been a bit radical to be a nun.... Read the whole article.

I found the article to be refreshingly balanced and insightful. The author visited two groups of sisters, one main-stream group: the Sisters of St. Joseph in Holyoke, MA, and one habited: the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. Both groups have found a way to live the Gospel in a radical way. I would like to explore a story that is hinted at in Mr. Oppenheimer's piece, but is not followed up: "each wing of American sisterhood counts about 500 women in the multi-year process of becoming nuns."

So where are these 500 new women in the "wing of American sisterhood" represented in the article by the Sisters of St. Joseph? They are here, they are living the gospel in a very conscious and deliberate way. They are living in communities where the median age is nearing 80. Those of us who have entered our communities in the last 25 years are beginning to find our distinctive voice and to explore our future together. I think this is the group to watch as we enter into dialogue about the future of religious life and radical gospel living.

Giving Voice represents the younger part of this cohort. The older part of the cohort has yet to find its own place, although this blog is an attempt to do that.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Forming Intentional Community

The Fellowship of Intentional Communities is a loose network at the service of intentional communities of various types that are established or just forming. Many of the communities share common characteristics including a commitment to justice and sustainability. Individual communities are invited to post about their community and to give some basic information about location, community description, governance, economics, etc.
I posted a listing on the group's website, giving some basic parameters for forming a community with other sisters from my own or other religious communities. I would hope to take the first steps in this project in 2013 with a few others who interested, and ready and able to commit to beginning such a project.
There are several communities already established in the St. Louis area which are listed on the site and they could be great places to collaborate in building up similar communities. In addition we have a group of Catholic Worker houses in the area, and they have great energy for building sustainable faith-based communities.

Friday, October 19, 2012

What would you say?

Trust that God is leading you through your deepest desires. There's still a bit of confusion these days about what it means to have a "vocation." People expect to have a vision, or hear voices, or to know with 100 percent certitude where to go. But often it's a simple attraction to a way of life. So if there is an order that someone feels called to, check it out, talk to the vocation director, go on a retreat, visit the house and get to know its members. It's not as if you're in this alone: God is leading you... Read more...

Nones on the Rise

SOJOUNERS: The Pew Forum recently released a new study, “Nones on the Rise.” This was not about my friends called the “Nuns On The Bus,” who just did a tour around the country focusing on social justice. Rather, It details the concerning trend of those in our country who have given up on religion altogether. 
Social scientists tell us that adults, especially young adults, are increasingly disconnected from our established religious traditions. “Nones,” the Pew forum calls them, have grown from 15 percent of U.S. adults to 20 percent in only five years. One-in-three adults under 30 check the religious affiliation box, “None of the above” or “Unaffiliated.” Despite the fact that 68 percent of nones believe in God, only 5 percent of them attend church once or more a week, and 22 percent attend monthly/yearly. Read more....

MY RESPONSE: Jim, Thanks for the article highlighting the Pew data and the compelling analysis of their numbers and its meaning for those of us who are religiously affiliated. The "Nones" remind me of a phrase that I'm sure I'll misquote from John Paul I: Atheists don't so much reject God, as they reject the false idea of God that they receive from believers. These numbers encourage me to live an authentic Christian life. But not a life that acknowledges uncomfortable truths and then settles for living a comfortable life. This is more about always striving to live more justly, more sustainably, more from a stance of personal contemplation and conversion. It is about speaking the truth to power only when I've first struggled to live that truth myself, acknowledging my own complicity in the wrongs I try to right. That doesn't mean I quit talking, but that I speak more softly, more humbly, inviting others to walk the path of conversion with me. I'm thinking of another Pope quote: "People today listen more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if we do listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses."
In religious communities and other faith-based intentional communities, we can commit ourselves to living the Gospel deliberately and conscientiously. Banding together with others affords us mutual support in the commitment, and it gives encouragement when we are weaker and challenge when we are tempted to compromise.

Friday, October 12, 2012

How to be a Nun

A Quick Guide for Intrepid Explorers, Scared Survivors and Those Who Don't Know

by the Colletine Poor Clare community
at Ty Mam Duw, North Wales
Please bring:
- the willingness to learn
- to hope
- to trust
- and to live on God's promises
Read on....

Occupy Catholic

I’m Sister Susan. I am an Occupy Catholic and a nun. Nuns have been criticized lately by the hierarchy of being radical feminists and too involved with social justice. Hmm — sounds like Occupy? … To me it seems that Occupy and nuns are allies in the struggle! And I know many other nuns who were in the encampments all over the country with you! God Bless Occupy. Read more....

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Vatican II Anniversary - What Are We Doing about it?

This is a video from a Canon Lawyer - before you click away - take a look at it. Ladislas Orsy, S.J. talks about the Vision of Vatican II - its miracle, its surprises, its hope, its ongoing invitation....

Yes. Yes. Yes.

I want to respond to the last point about each of us finding the thing that we can do... and doing it. I totally agree and for me, that one particular thing is hearing the call to 'rebuild my church' within the context of religious life.

Women religious in the US are at a major turning point. We are challenged to find a way forward, even as many of our institutes are declining and facing their historical completion. This fact is not failure, it is merely a fact, a reality. But that fact calls us to live this completion intentionally, graciously and with dignity.

At the same time, many of us younger women religious are coming together to discuss and to ask where we are called to be and to do religious life in the 21st Century. As we come together, we ask ourselves, what is religious life? what is its place in today's world? what is the role of religious life in living forward the vision of Vatican II and of the Gospel itself?

We are called to be mystics and to nourish a deep spirituality. At the same time, this mystical element is the essential foundation for our prophetic vocation - the call to live radial Christian community, the call to serve in ministries that bring God's light to the concrete darknesses in our world today and the call to speak God's Word in this time.

I believe my part is to articulate and share this vision and network with others who resonate with it. That is the inspiration behind this blog and various groups who are gathering to share the emerging vision of religious life and to live this vision into reality.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Occupy Religious Life III

The Occupy movement taps into the intuition that the solutions to today's challenges will be found in and through community, rather than through partisan politics or academic debate. Occupy groups seek to embody in their ranks the values they want to implement in the wider society, and as such they are experiments in community and democracy.
Occupy communities are small enough for members to know each other and yet large and diverse enough to need some rules to keep the community cohesive. The Occupy movement is a community of communities that establish mutual obligations and responsibilities among themselves to enable the diverse interest groups to pursue common or complementary strategies toward an overarching goal of a more just society.
Many of the men and women who are seeking to live or renew religious life today long for communities that exemplify these same values imbued with a faith perspective: a radical commitment to shared gospel living, to a balanced life-style where there is time for prayer, community and mission. They seek to incarnate the Gospel here and now, asking what task God might take up on moving into each neighborhood. In small local communities, we become peacemakers, share the good news, live lightly on the earth and actively pursue justice. We share life, goods, and spirituality so that we can support one another in the commitments we have made.
Religious life at its most fundamental level is the incarnation of the gospel here and now. We do this after the pattern of our founders; we come together out of a distinct heritage to discover anew the freshness of radical gospel rootedness, and the call of our charism to be connected to our contemporary time and place in this specific historical moment.
The vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are personal commitments we make that frame our gospel response and facilitate our shared community. They take fundamental human orientations to money, power and sex which can point inward toward the self and mediate them so that they point outward toward community. The vow of poverty orients us to an alternate economy where we share what we have and receive what we need. The vow of obedience orients us toward an alternate politics ruled by the power of Love and deep listening in the Spirit. The vow of chastity orients us to a primary life-commitment in our religious community.
Religious life is vowed life lived in community for mission. Over the centuries, the fundamental elements of the life: vows, community and mission, have formed that framework within which the life is lived. Periodically, the life re-invents itself, reorienting these three elements so that they form a more dynamic and authentic response to the challenges of culture in a particular time and place. By taking up the challenge of the Occupy movement we can rediscover how to live religious life in our contemporary world, forming communities that can indeed renew the face of the earth by living the spirit of the beatitudes.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I want to go to the novitiate...

I want to go to the novitiate... I stated boldly to my formation director. We both knew these words were coming, but stating my desire forthrightly brought with them a certain fortitude. The words floated with an air of certitude and conviction, unlike the words I had spoken when asking to become a “candidate” with the Sisters of St. Joseph, words I had wished I could put back in my mouth as soon as I spoke them. Now I knew I wanted to enter the novitiate, and I believed Jesus was calling me into a deeper relationship in this time. Read more... --Colleen


SOME CALL ME SIS: Tomorrow the Sisters of St. Agnes celebrates our Founders Day. Today at mass I kept thinking about what it means to be in this community. We were started to assist German immigrants in this area of the country and things have shifted.... --Vicki

Online Symposium on Consecrated Life

There is still time to register for the final session: October 14, 2012, 2pm ET
Charism: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow - Using oral histories of sisters entering a Benedictine monastery in the early 20th century and interview data from women entering in the last 30 years, the paper will compare and contrast the call to religious life in the pre- and post-Vatican II eras. Discussion will focus on the lessons to be learned as we move into the future.
Presenter: Karen Rose, OSB - Sr. Karen entered religious life in 2007. A British citizen, she has a BA/MA in philosophy and theology from Oxford University. She holds an MSc in social anthropology, PhD in palliative care and has researched extensively on social aspects of health care. Currently, her research interest is in applying the lens of social science to the study of history. For more information or to register...

Band of Sisters Review:

MUSINGS: Last night I went with a band of sisters--a group of young nun friends from Giving Voice who are living in Chicago--to see the new documentary film, Band of Sisters.  The film by Mary Fishman is premiering this week at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, where it's been seen by sold out crowds.... --Susan

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What Can We Do?

This video analyses the current global financial crisis and ecological crisis, seeing them as related to a fundamental structural flaw in our economic system. The solution is to reverse the trend to growing bigger and bigger companies, banks, governments and media conglomerates. The solution is for each of us, the 99%, the little people, the "I-can't-make-a-difference" people to stand up and take responsibility for living smaller and more sustainably.
I believe that Religious Life can plant itself in the solution side of this situation by living smaller and simpler, more equitably and sustainably. Banding together in small communities, networked for mutual support, we can work to get out of the system and off the grid. We can model gospel living. I believe this is our task in today's world.
Historians credit monasticism with saving Western Civilization in the 5th-7th centuries. This was not done with grand plans or by force of arms. During a period of great turmoil, Benedictine houses struggled to stand as oases of order and peace.
I believe this is our task today. And I believe that there are men and women up to the task.
--Amy Hereford

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A different path....

Flying in the Face of Tradition: Listening to the Lived Experience of the Faithful
by Louis deThomasis FSC
ACTA Publications, 2012
ISBN 978-0-87946-485-1

In a time when nearly every conversation about differing viewpoints that could lead to greater understanding and unity instead degenerates into polarizing acrimony, it is refreshing to run across a pithy little book that takes a different path. Brother Louis deThomasis is a Christian Brother whose background and experience - as a educator and president of St. Mary's University in Winona, Minnesota, and now as an investment manager for his international community - place him squarely within the boundaries of whatever establishment one might delineate, be it eccesial, academic or financial. He's hardly out on the fringes of anything, in other words, and his sensible, sober assessment of the current situation within the Catholic Church is hard to dismiss on those grounds, not that people won't try, of course!

Flying in the Face of Tradition, which was just published in the spring of 2012, is a 102-page example of the true definition of humility – meaning that it is written without hyperbole, exaggeration or distortion, but from within a clear-eyed foundation of personal experience and expertise. Brother Louis asks questions that cut right to the heart of the problems plaguing the institutional church today, and does so in a quiet, respectful manner that never strays from his aim of reconciliation and unity. He never belittles, attacks, or assumes evil intent, nor does he gloss over, excuse or sidestep into highflown abstraction. Instead, he proposes a set of questions designed “to appeal to common sense and the core values and beliefs within Catholicism” to arrive at “first, an understanding of the present reality of what is going on in the world today; and second, an analysis of how that present reality affects what is going on within the church today.”

His first question is: Is the institutional church dying? His simple answer to that is: Yes. But he views that as a hopeful thing, “the last opportunity for it to transform itself into something that once again is able to carry out its original purpose.” He defines the “institutional church” narrowly as the formal structural hierarchy within the Vatican,” along with the local churches that are within the purview of each Roman Catholic bishop. It is not to be conflated with the communion of the People of God with all the followers of Jesus before and after us, nor the kingdom of God. Those are the Church in the larger sense, the vibrant sense of mystical tradition, sacrament, herald and servant, the greater sense that we may forget in our focus on the “super-structure of the church, the one that makes the institutional rules and has made the institutional mistakes that have gotten us into our present situation.” He takes pains to make this distinction abundantly clear, because he says, “It is the institutional church that is dying, not the church that we Catholics belong to.”

He calls the institutional church to repentance and transformation bygiving a list of incidents that serve as examples of what precisely is wrong. It includes many examples of egregious denial and coverup of sexual crimes, financial misdeeds, and silencing of theologians, prophets and questions, to name only a few. Had this book been published just a month later, it might also have included the Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR; he does mention the Apostolic Visitation and the recent hospital case involving Sister Margaret McBride RSM and the Bishop of Phoenix. He names as sin a recent spirit of restorationism within the church structure that seeks to undo or squelch the spirit of Vatican II, and the hubris and fear that underlie the increasing attempts to control and marginalize those who favor transparency and dare to ask questions.

But he doesn't stop with the laundry list. He also proposes good, realistic solutions that are grounded in his own institutional experience and expertise. He sprinkles the text with encouragement to the faithful who struggle with the losses that any kind of change inevitably represents. And he finishes the book with a poignant little tale entitled “A Voice of Tradition” about the founder of his order, St. John Baptiste de LaSalle. De LaSalle had no end of difficulty and conflict with the institutional hierarchs and even with his own congregation as he sought to make education available to the poor and working-class people of his day. But in his prayerful persistence, he became, deThomasis writes, “an institutional church transformational agent.”

I read this book in one afternoon, and came away from it with a renewed sense of hope and possibility, even in the midst of these messy times. I highly recommend it to anyone – Catholic or not – who is looking for some sign of sanity in our flailing church. This book is one such sign.

--Baya Clare

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Occupy Religious Life - II

Reflecting on the connection between Occupy Wall Street and Religious Life, I take inspiration from some 20th century visionaries such as Dorothy Day, Jean Vanier and Deitrich Bonhoeffer who all saw that the key to living radical Christian life in today's world is community.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) began to live that dream in Germany in the midst of the Second World War. It was in community that he and others found the wisdom and courage to confront their horrific situation. They sought to live the gospel with fidelity and to challenge both church and state to stop the violent and genocidal program of the Nazi regime. This proved to be costly; Bonhoeffer and some of his collaborators lost their lives holding fast to their ideals. Articulated in harsh situations and nurtured by sacrifice, these ideals live on in a growing movement called the 'new monasticism.'
In New York, Bonhoeffer's contemporaries were launching the Catholic Worker movement. With Dorothy Day (1897-1980) at the lead, Catholic Workers founded communities of hospitality where it is 'easier to be good.' These are places where gospel values are deliberately and systematically integrated into the life of the community through personal commitment and regular clarification of thought and values.
Jean Vanier (1928-) created L'Arche, a movement of intentional communities  of friendship and mutuality between people who have disabilities and others. He too saw that the communities are the places of healing and hope for those who share community, and for those in their network of relationships.
Today's intentional community movement has continued down to our own day with many young people seeking to join communities, particularly during and after college. There are many volunteer programs that offer participants an experience of community as they give a year or more of their lives in service to the poor and marginalized. Others commit themselves long term to these communities where they can live justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with God. (Micah 6:8)
The middle generation of religious, those not so young and not so old, are coming to rediscover the importance of community for their own lives, for their work, and for the future of religious life itself.
--Amy Hereford csj

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Emerging Religious Life: Roots and Newness

BLOG on EMERGING RELIGIOUS LIFE: A lot of people talk about what religious life is growing into, and how it is transitioning into something very new and different.  When you look back it has been doing that for 50 years or so.... Read more....

Jennifer Gordon, at the LCWR Assembly, August 9, 2012

I’ve spent some time this summer sorting through old papers and recently came across the notes I had taken during a Region XIII Intercommunity Formation Gathering that I attended as a second-year candidate in 2003.  Our own Sister Janet Mock was our presenter for the weekend, and she spoke about religious life in general, and about our vows in particular, from the ecclesial, cultural, charismatic and communitarian contexts.  And she asked us, “Why live this life if we’re not living it at that liminal edge?” Read the full text...

Video from the CSSJ Federation Novitiate

They "wanna be nuns"

LCWR Presidential Address

We stand in the power of the dying and rising of Jesus. I hold forever in my heart an expression of that from the days of the dictatorship in Chile: “Pueden aplastar algunas flores, pero no pueden detener la primavera.” “They can crush a few flowers but they can’t hold back the springtime.” Read more in English...  Español...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Occupy Religious Life - Action

Several sisters gathered in Chicago, IL July 29-Aug 2 to engage in conversations about the emerging future of religious life. During that time we Occupied the Sisters of St. Joseph Federation Novitiate House.
On Monday, July 30, we held a web conference to expand the conversation, offering the opportunity for a broader exchange. The seven participants came from both coasts and across the country.
We opened with a check-in. A poem set the tone for some shared contemplative space. We used the words shared earlier on this blog: I do not seek to follow in your footsteps, I seek what you sought. (Basho) This was followed by a 'Did you know?' section in which we shared links and resources on emerging religious life and news on religious life. See the links in the sidebar.
We then shared our hopes and dreams for religious life. Our spirits soared as we gave voice to the spirit and named our dreams. Some were very concrete, some were more distant and abstract. We put the notes in a wordle which is at the top of this post.
I think it is significant that the largest words were SMALL, COMMUNITIES, WORLD, LIFE, TOGETHER.
Acknowledging that religious life will be smaller in the future, we named our desire for life together in communities. Communities are a privileged place to live the gospel and share prayer and life. In communities we support one another in our commitments to an ever deepening contemplative practice, to radical christian life and to service. In addition, our life together is at the service of the wider community whom we serve by prayer, witness and ministry. In community, we seek to live the values we want to bring to the world.
--Susan Wilcox (for the Occupiers)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Reality Check and more....

Reality Check (America Magazine)

The announcement last April of the results of the doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has provoked strong reactions inside and outside the Catholic Church in the United States. In the process, some commentators have made assertions about the demographics of religious life in the United States that are not based in fact. Regrettably, such misinformed statements create dichotomies that not only mask the complexity of religious reality, but are patently false. In an article ... Read more....


Musings of a Discerning Woman: Religious Life ... A Numbers Game?: There's been a lot bandied about of late about religious life and the women who follow Jesus through the vowed life.  In the midst of it all... Read more...

Seed Bed of Evolving Church (NCR)

With the profound abilities and advances of technology and the numerous problems facing the world -- from nuclear accidents to global climate change -- the human race stands at a moment of "evolution or extinction," a keynote speaker told some 900 U.S. Catholic sisters gathered here in conference Wednesday morning.
And one of the best hopes for the continuation of humanity, said Barbara Marx Hubbard, are the women religious themselves. "You are the best seed bed I know for evolving the church and the world in the 21st century.... Read more...

Pathological Altruism (NCR)

This is the state of the psyche when one says, "I have to help someone. It's my identity." This extreme desire to help is often at a profound cost to the helper. Oftentimes, this dynamic looks like a codependent relationship where helpers have a bloated sense of the ego and lack the awareness of their own humanity. In a significant way, the helpers' inability to allow someone to suffer continues to hurt themselves.
Have we depended too much on the work of Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Service to please our own guilty consciences around inequality, privilege and power? Read more...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A picture worth a thousand words....

Messages of Support for LCWR Participants

Send your messages of prayers and support to the participants if the LCWR National Assembly, August 7-11, 2012 in St. Louis, MO. Messages will be streamed on the exhibit floor. Click here....

Martha Zechmeister, CJ to the Conference for Religious of Ireland

Christian mysticism always is a mysticism of the way: following Jesus – risking ourselves for the sake of those who are in danger of getting trapped between the cog-wheels – losing ourselves in the mystery of God. “Wanderer, there is no path, the path creates itself in the walking,” is one of the most beautiful verses of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado. Our path is, however, not one of solitary walking, but rather a being on the road together with a people. It is a walking together with my fellow men and women and together with my wounded brothers and sisters who become companions and guides on the way to the mystery of God. Read more....

Nun's diary of uncharted waters an inspiration for women today

After three months at sea, four Carmelite sisters stepped onto shore in Maryland 222 years ago this month, prepared to establish the first order of nuns in the 13 colonies. Clare Joseph Dickinson was one of those first foremothers of faith. A woman of the word, she left us a detailed diary of her journey. Read more....

Vow Preparaton

These are the waning hours of the out-of-state portion of my formal preparation for final vows.  I leave Concordia, Kansas early tomorrow for the trek home.  I have been here in Concordia since the 11th of July, first for an eight-day, silent, directed retreat and then ...

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Occupy Catholic Religious Life

-->The occupy movement has taken the nation and the world by storm. It is congealing the energies of those who know that business-as-usual is not sustainable, as is shown by the recent melt-down of the world economy, the continued degradation of the environment, and growing spiritual unrest. If business-as-usual is not sustainable, it will take all of us, working together to build an economically just, environmentally sustainable and spiritually meaningful future. When society is poised for a major awakening, religious life too can be a part of this and be a player in its unfolding. But it requires that we acknowledge our complicity in business-as-usual and commit to our own awakening and re-imagining.
Religious life in today's society can take stock of some important currents that may not be religiously motivated, but are certainly consonant with the Gospel values we seek to incarnate in society: intentional community, ecological awakening, calls for economic justice, solidarity with the poor and a shift in consciousness. Christians in general, and men and women religious in particular, in the best of their history, have always sought to be a leaven in society, helping shape movements animated by the spirit of the beatitudes: to be peacemakers, to be merciful and to work for justice. We can mine our tradition for insights and tools to help us in this, but we will also need to engage the real issues of today. History is a great teacher, but it cannot answer today's questions.
The question we are raising today is: What would it look like for religious life to take up the challenges issued by the occupy movement? Where do we find resonances with the occupy movement in our own traditions and the stories of our various religious communities?
Some may turn to the Second Vatican Council and its call to renewal for the answers to these questions. This is part of the answer. Vatican II called religious to renew their lives by returning to the founding words and works, by engaging the founding members and the founding story and asking how that story might be more authentically lived in today's time and place. This called for a re-imagination of the life in a new historical context, a task energetically undertaken by the religious of the day.
The renewal of the second half of the 20th century prepared us for a more fundamental re-invention of the life that will bring us into the middle of the 21st century. Historically, religious life has 're-invented' itself, every 500 years or so, with the new forms continuing to exist along-side the old.
In the early Christian centuries, hermits, virgins and pilgrims sought to embrace a life of deep personal commitment to prayer and gospel living, to the exclusion of any other primary life commitment. We have writings from these Fathers and Mothers of the desert heard the call to a more radical form of life.
By the 5th Century, this way of life found new expression in monastic communities. By this time experience had shown that individual wandering monks were sometimes unruly and disruptive. By gathering in communities, Christians found support and challenge for the living of their the radical commitment to prayer and gospel living. Benedict and Augustine wrote rules that survive to this day and continue to inspire followers.
In the Middle Ages, the life re-invented itself as some of the large and powerful monasteries found it difficult to maintain their fidelity to those founding ideals. The mendicants sought lives of poverty and simplicity. Franciscans and Dominicans are prime examples of this life form.
Then again in the 16th Century, the apostolic orders arose in response to the pressing needs of the church and of society. The Jesuits, the Sisters of St. Joseph and so many groups arose to carry out the mission of Jesus in the world around them.1 Each of these 're-inventions' arose because of changed circumstances and the need for a new response from religious.
I sometimes wonder if the radical shifts in religious life and in the culture of today aren't calling for yet another re-invention, a new form of the life which will not supplant the former, as each of the prior forms have continued to exist along-side the old.
...more later.
--Join an Internet forum with younger women religious Monday, July 30 and Tuesday July 31, 7pm Central US Time.
--Amy Hereford

1 Earlier groups had men and women, e.g. Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans. But there are fewer examples of men's and women's apostolic communities coming out of the same tradition as we saw with those earlier forms.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Re-Imagining Nuns - IV

Religious life calls us to re-imagination. In this new context, our call is to incarnate the gospel in this time, in this place. We are called to be re-grounded in the Gospel imperative to be peacemakers, to be merciful and to work for justice. We know what that has looked like over the years, but what does it look like today?
The early hermits went to the desert for the same reason modern hermits go to the desert:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.1
Early hermits sought to live the Gospel with radical commitment. At some point, the flight from the world became a repudiation of the world, not simply a personal quest. This world-repudiating move was challenged with the new theological impetus of the Second Vatican Council.
The three vows, the form Profession has taken in most congregations and the substance of which is involved in all forms of Profession, do not necessarily have to be understood in terms of physical flight from the world. They can be understood, and I think much better and more fruitfully understood, not as the assumption of supererogatory obligations and practices, but as the coordinates of an alternate “world,” not another place but an alternate imaginative reality construction. By profession Religious create, live in, and minister out of an alternate “world,” which they offer to their contemporaries as a real historical possibility.2
This is the call of religious life today to live in such a way as to create an alternate world. We dare to take the gospel seriously and ask where we would live and what we do. In this way, religious hope to
create a living realization in their own community life of the true world of which God dreams while working through their ministry to make it real in history.3
This imperative of religious life reminds me of the small faith-based intentional communities I know. Perhaps religious life is better done by small intentional communities that support one another in life, community and mission. Large institutional ministries are no longer necessary or possible; large groups of ready laborers are part of the fond memories of many older Catholics today. But the smaller local groups that are networked for mutual support and assistance is more likely the way of the future. It is likely that we will be collaborating inter-congregationally to make these communities a reality for the active religious women in our world today.

1Henry David Thoreau, Walden Pond (Boston, MA: Boston, Ticknor and Fields, 1854), 98.
2Schneiders, “The Radical Nature and Significance of Consecrated Life.”

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Lift Up the Banner of your Heart Boldly

Lift up the banner of your heart boldly
and commit your very next step
to what you love most dearly.
--John Fox

Top 10 Things I Learned on Hermitage 

Blogging from a hermitage?!  What next?!  Well, it is Sabbath, and I decided that I wanted to share.  So, yes, I'm blogging from my hermitage.  It is desert, both literally and figuratively.  Read more...

Young Religious Creating History for Consecrated Life in India

The capital city will be the venue of the first Young Religious National Convention from a number of Religious Congregations across India. It was held from 9 – 12 July 2012 at Don Bosco Campus, Okhla. Over 200 educated and media literate delegates attended this well planned Convention under the theme “Leadership for Consecrated Life 2020”. Read more....

Younger Women Religious Gather in US next Summer

Early registration is open for the 2013 Giving Voice National Gathering. July 5-8, 2013 at Notre Dame de Namur University, Belmont, California. This national gathering will be for members of the Giving Voice Generation (women religious under 50).  Carol Zinn, SSJ has accepted our invitation to join us as we ponder mission and ministry as younger women religious in the 21st Century. Stay tuned for details....

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Re-Imagining Nuns - III

The Mediating Category is the World

I'm continuing a reflection on a paper of Sandra Schneiders. In that paper, she proposed 'the world' as the mediating category to understand the dynamic at work in the Second Vatican Council and in the subsequent renewal of religious life.
We cannot trace, even briefly, the 2000 year history of the Church and its relation to the non-ecclesiastical reality in which it is embedded. But, essentially, the relationship between the Church and what it defined as the “world,” meaning everything other than its institutional self, was one of antagonism and increasing enmity.1
In the quasi-monastic apostolic communities, the repudiation took a symbolic form of cloister, dress and schedule: habit, and habitation, dress and address. A repudiation perhaps more symbolic than real as women took to the streets to meet the crushing needs of the day which were sadly unmet by the church, the state and the un-empowered laity. Many religious communities began as lay groups which were co-opted into religious communities by a variety of external pressures.2
I would suggest that the primary and pivotal originality of Vatican II was the paradigm shift in the Church’s self-understanding of its relationship to the world.3
The new 'world' space is indeed relevant since the former dualistic separation of the spiritual and temporal affairs belies the radical presence of God in all things. In today's consciousness, the world is not merely the field of evangelization, it is full of images of God and replete with the presence of God. The thinnest mist separates the “seen and unseen; / Lo, God's two worlds immense, / Of spirit and of sense.”4 The Christian's work is not to remake the world, but it is to sweep away the mist and let the presence of God shine through for themselves and for those around them.
In this new 'world' view, what is the place of world-repudiating religious? What is the place of habit and habitation in so far as they are the symbols of flight from the world? Quite quickly following Vatican II, religious life adapted to the new circumstances. Taking up the words and works of their founding narrative, in the years of renewal, religious discovered and renewed the charismatic elements of the life, discarding structures that didn't serve the newly-recovered story.
How could Religious, who had always seen themselves, and been seen by the Church -- precisely because of their separation from the world -- as the vanguard of the faithful, the “more illustrious portion of the flock of Christ,” if not the primary incarnation and instrument of the Church’s self-understanding as the antithesis of the world, re-conceptualize their vocation in terms of the Church’s new espousal of solidarity with the world without renouncing their very identity?5
This called for a radical re-imagination of the life in a new historical context, a task energetically undertaken by the religious of the day. In the course of their response, religious found themselves yielding ministerial roles to lay persons outside their communities. This was a trend that found its theological underpinnings in Vatican II's empowering of the laity for mission. But it also found practical impetus in the decreasing numbers of religious as women left religious life in those chaotic post-conciliar years and fewer women came to replace them. This left positions open in ministries that till that time were almost entirely staffed by religious. At the same time increasing numbers of lay persons were professionally prepared and seeking to serve along side their religious counterparts.
Apostolic religious life, had its birth in a particular historical context marked by profound social needs which could only be met by vowed religious. Among the Catholic laity, we are seeing an increasingly large, competent and committed group of men and women serving the needs of both Church and society. This development was called for by Vatican II, with it's renewed understanding of the universal call to holiness and to mission.6 This change in historical context raises the question of the ongoing place of specifically apostolic religious life in the church and the world of today.
Historically, religious life has 're-invented' itself, every 500 years or so, with the new forms continuing to exist along-side the old. Pilgrims, hermits and ascetics were the religious of the early Christian centuries. They were followed by the rise of monastics beginning in the 5th century. The middle ages saw the rise of the fresh insights of the mendicants which in turn was followed by the rise of the apostolic orders in the 15th century. There are many examples of each form of religious life.7
Each of these 're-inventions' arose because of changed circumstances and the need for a new response from religious. I sometimes wonder if the radical shifts in religious life and in the culture of today aren't calling for yet another re-invention, a new form of the life which will not supplant the former, as each of the prior forms have continued to exist along-side the old.
For this task of re-invention, we can take inspiration from some 20th century visionaries such as Dorothy Day, Jean Vanier and Deitrich Bonhoeffer who all saw that the key to living radical Christian life in today's world is community.
The restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ. I think it is time to gather people together to do this....8
The radical nature of religious life is the incarnation of the beatitudes here and now. We do it after the pattern of our founders; we come together out of those distinctive heritages to discover anew the freshness of radical gospel rootedness, and the call of our charisms to be connected to our contemporary time and place.
--Sister Amy Hereford

2Lynn Jarrell, “The Legal and Historical Context of Religious Life for Women,” The Jurist 45 (1985): 419–437.
3Schneiders, “The Radical Nature and Significance of Consecrated Life.”
4 Francis Thompson, “Any Saint,” in The Works of Francis Thompson (London: Burns & Oates, 1913), lines 76-78.
5Schneiders, “The Radical Nature and Significance of Consecrated Life.”
6Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Lumen Gentium, AAS 57 (1965) 5-75, 1964; Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Apostolicam Actuositatem, AAS 58 (1966) 837-864, 1965.
7Examples of the various forms are: Monastics: Benedictines and Augustinians; Mendicants: Franciscans and Dominicans; Apostolic Religious: Jesuits and Sisters of St. Joseph (Due to complete cloister for women, there are fewer examples of mens and womens apostolic communities coming out of the same tradition):
8Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from a letter to Karl-Friedrich Bonhoeffer in A Testment to Freedom (p. 424)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Poem from the East

I do not seek
to follow in the footsteps
of those of old,
I seek the things that they sought.
--Matsuo Bashō

One of our sisters 'of old' shared this quote as indicative of what 'younger sisters' are seeking.

The Future of Consecrated Life

UNITED KINGDOM - A two-day Conference on "The Future of Consecrated Life in the United Kingdom and Europe" was held in the parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Hayes, Middlesex on Tuesday 29th and Wednesday 30th May. Over 200 Religious men and women from the United Kingdom and Ireland attended. Read more.... 

Online Symposium on Consecrated Life

WEB - Join us in 2012 for an ongoing, online conversation organized and presented by women religious under the age of 60 on emergent Religious Life. Session III will be on July 8, 2012. Gail Worcelo will present: Sisters on the Cosmological Frontier Read more.... 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Re-Imagining Nuns - II

I want to continue a reflection on  some work of Sandra Schneiders that I started some weeks back.

Two poles

Radical constitution and historical context are two poles that Schneiders uses as the framework of a recent paper:
First, apostolic Religious Life is radically constituted by the lifelong total consecration of the Religious to God effected and expressed by perpetual Profession lived in community and mission. Second, and simultaneously, that life is intrinsically shaped by the historical context, including the charism of the founder, in which it is born and in which it is lived.1
She proposes a historical grounding in the culture of the foundation, as read through the renewal narrative deeply influenced by 'the Council'.
These two features are correlative and determine both the continuity of Religious Life as it has been lived from the first century to the present, and also the discontinuity among various forms of the life that have arisen throughout that same period. This interaction between radical constitution and historical development has produced a variety of charismatically distinct forms of Religious life which are not just superficially but substantially different.
While, I would agree there is continuity and discontinuity, I see them cutting in two directions. First, we may posit as Schneiders does chronological or vertical continuity with the deep story of religious life and a discontinuity as that life becomes culturally and historically rooted in a founding narrative. And second, as we strive to live religious life authentically today, we might also see chronological or vertical continuity with the story of the founding narrative read through the Vatican II renewal and a discontinuity as that life becomes culturally and historically rooted in the radical cultural shifts since that Council that impel us to engage our contemporary society as the world rushes headlong into the second axial age. This discontinuity will be guided, as was the founding moment, by deep immersion in the radical constitution of the life. In this process, we may want to loosen our grasp on the historical context of the founding charism and allow ourselves to engage in continuity with the “radical constitution” of the life. We ask not what our founding members did and said, but why they did it. Were they not seized by a passion for that radical constitution of the life so profound that they sought to implant its pristine freshness in their own time and place? A challenge in every community is to distinguish what the founding narrative did in its particular historical context from why it was done which points to the radical constitution of religious community in the early Christian centuries.
As we engage in this exercise I believe we will find a horizontal discontinuity / continuity dynamic between and among religious institutes living in our particular historical-cultural context. We are coming out of a world in which religious entered, lived and ministered almost exclusively in their own congregations; they lived in discontinuity with other religious in the same city, even in the same neighborhood, silo-ed in continuity with their own founding narrative. Inter-congregational ventures were the exception rather than the rule, and they were often limited to new ventures, and to new members. I believe that this horizontal discontinuity served its purpose in the age of mega-congregations dispersed geographically, maintaining the esprit-de-corps, forming bonds between members and ensuring the social cohesiveness of the group, while the group remained isolated from the wider community as well as from other religious.
Some of today's women religious in the minority cohort in religious life, age cohorts between 20 and 60 years of age, challenge this horizontal discontinuity. Participating in intercommunity formation programs and projects, they experience the richness of these collaborative efforts and ask the dominant cohort: Why is it that we form federations to collaborate with sisters from across the country, but we don't even know other sisters who live down the street?
1Sandra M. Schneiders, “The Radical Nature and Significance of Consecrated Life” (presented at the Theology of Consecrated Life: Identity and Significance of Apostolic Consecrated Life, Rome, February 8, 2011)..

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Future Full of Hope?

Gemma Simmonds CJ, the editor of a new collection of essays exploring contemporary religious life, introduces some of the sensitive but crucial questions with which she and her fellow contributors have engaged. Has there been a loss of the distinctiveness of religious life since Vatican II and if so, what will be the lasting effects on the ministry and mission of women religious in particular? Is the future full of hope? Read more.... and here....

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Re-Imagining Nuns

Sr. Sandra Schneiders has been writing and speaking on the topic of religious life for many years and her name is a household word among many religious communities as she articulates a theology of religious life for today. Her reflections invite us into an exploration of what is emerging in religious life today as we live a period of unprecedented demographic shifts among women religious in the US. I would like to take up the conversation and respond to a paper entitled The Radical Nature and Significance of Consecrated Life she presented at the Theological Seminar held in Rome by the Union of Superiors General of men and women in 2011.1 I hope that in a robust exchange of ideas we can all sharpen our perspectives and explore new horizons.
The recent news regarding the CDF-LCWR issue highlight the importance of continued reflection about the ongoing relevance of religious life and it's emerging realities.

Religious and the “World”

In the paper, Schneiders proposes “the World” as the category for understanding the shift of apostolic religious life at the time of the Council. I'll have to say that she mentioned 'the Council' and I had to ask myself – which council do you mean? I think to most of her audience, it was obvious that it was the council they had lived through. But for those of us who didn't live through it, it's not 'the' council any more than 'the' war is any particular war. In any case, I agree that the world is an important category for understanding the shift that happened in the VCII renewal, and the more significant shift that is underway today as we come to understand the world in its evolutionary cosmology.
Schneiders also points to certain structural elements of religious life that prevailed for most of the first two and a half centuries of the life in the US context. The cloistering of women religious is a huge issue that has had a deep and lasting effect on women's religious life. With the ominously named decree Pericoloso of Boniface VIII in 1298, the complete cloister of women religious became obligatory in the western Church. Although it was variously enforced, it is difficult to overestimate the significance of strict cloister which legislated nearly complete isolation of the entire movement of women's religious life from the wider cultural context for nearly six centuries from 1298 to 1983. Many women religious continually sought ways to engage in ministry outside the cloister and were able to do this, but only with strict limitations on their activities, dress and interactions.
The Second Vatican Council mandated the adaptation and renewal of religious life in its decree Perfectae Caritatis, in which it directed religious to return to the original inspiration for their institutes, to the words and works of their founders and early members. They sought to discover the core values of their institutes and to reinterpret those values for their own age. For institutes of women, this meant returning to the sources only to find that their founding members struggled with the ability to establish a lifestyle that was, on the one hand, true to their inspiration and, on the other hand, conformed to restrictive requirements placed on women's religious life at the time. The founding inspiration sought to incarnate the Gospel in a particular time and place and to gather members around their particular experience of spirituality, community and mission. If the group was to obtain official approval and support, the group was required to adhere to certain external norms of dress, schedule and cloister.
Returning to the sources during the Vatican II renewal of the 60s and 70s, women questioned the value of these very visible external elements which hindered the living of the founding values. These external elements had taken on a huge symbolic value in the intervening centuries, to the point that some equated fidelity to religious life with fidelity to these external structures. These very visible elements are often pointed out critically by ecclesiastics and are a point of dis-juncture among women religious today as we strive to find new stories, new models, new images and new ways to express the age old values in a world hungering for our authentic witness.
 I'll continue this reflection on Schneiders' paper in future posts....

1Sandra M. Schneiders, “The Radical Nature and Significance of Consecrated Life” (presented at the Theology of Consecrated Life: Identity and Significance of Apostolic Consecrated Life, Rome, February 8, 2011).

Sunday, June 3, 2012

We Do Exist

Thanks Susan Francois for this video created by a younger Catholic Sister to tell the story of the women entering religious life today. We Do Exist ... younger Catholic Sisters by SusanFrancois, CSJP on GoAnimate

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Let's Admit Something Straight Up

Amanda Kern's blog entry about facing the truth about my community and all around the country...I'm sure y'all can identify with this too.