Tag Archives: future of religious life

10 Years as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace

My novitiate classmate Sister Chero texted me this morning to remind me that ten years ago today we were received as novices and added “Sister” to the beginning of our names.

Then I wrote on my old blog: “Mostly I’m deeply happy and grateful to God for this invitation and the whatever it took to finally say yes. Not to mention this amazing community of friends I have found to journey with. Wow…”

Now, ten years later, I can only say that my joy and gratitude has deepened in ways I could not have even imagined then. I continue to be amazed at the joy, love, grace, and blessing that comes with being a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace.

Holy Saturday Moments

holy20saturdayLife is filled with many Holy Saturday moments. Time upon time we must let go of what was before we can even begin to be open to what will come.  I think of the way the first Holy Week after my own mother’s death was different than any other before or since. I felt it in my bones. I think of friends who have lost their job and struggled to find their feet again, or friends who have lost a child far too soon, or seen the end of their marriage.  There is always that messy middle space of witnessing the love lived and lost before something new emerges to call us forth to witness to love and life in new ways.

Theologian Shelly Rambo identifies Holy Saturday as the “middle day, as the site of witness to a more complex relationship between death and life” (Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining, pg. 46.). And what is at the core of this complex relationship? Love of course. “Between death and life, there is a testimony to Spirit, to a love that survives not in victory but in weariness” (pgs. 79-80).

This weariness is real and of the Spirit. It attests to the depth of love that has been lived. But it also can keep us from seeing the new life that is before our eyes. Think of Mary Magdalene at the tomb, mistaking Jesus for the gardener!

I can’t help but ponder the shifting landscape and transformations taking place in religious life through the lens of Holy Saturday. As I wrote in a Global Sisters Report column last year, “Middle space represents this time as an almost Holy Saturday moment. Much is breaking down, we know something new is emerging, but this is a moment pregnant with not yet.”

On this Holy Saturday morning, I found myself reading an article featuring some younger Catholic sisters I know who are members the Sisters of the Holy Redeemer. It is a great article that focuses on the new life that is present and emerging, even as the sisters are letting go of the structures of the past. “Now they are crafting a brave future in which the sisterhood may be minuscule, but its work will go on.”

We are indeed living in a Holy Saturday moment. “We can say, ‘Oh, isn’t it sad, our sisters are aging, nobody is coming, we’re dying out’ – and that’s real,” said Sister Anne Marie Haas, provincial supervisor of the community’s Montgomery County headquarters. “But we have a choice.”

And that choice is love, even in its weariest and messiest forms. As we say in our CSJP Constitutions, “Confident of God’s faithful love, and collaborating with others who work for justice and peace, we face the future with gratitude and hope.”

Remembering, renewing, risking – Global Sisters Report

My latest column has been posted on Global Sisters Report. This one is more of a reflection where I mull over the communion of saints and what their witness and presence means to us today:

There is great wisdom in our Catholic tradition of setting aside time in the liturgical year to remember all the saints and souls, just as we take time to remember and celebrate the impact of our loved ones upon their passing. As theologian Flora Keshgegian writes in Redeeming Memories: A Theology of Healing and Transformation, remembering is meant to be oriented to ‘affect present action'(p. 25). We do not remember to stay in the past. Rather, we remember for the present, and dare I say, for the future.”

Head over to Global Sisters Report to read the whole column.

Mingling

Some reflections on religious life in the early 21st Century:

I will never know what it was like in the fervor of the post war years of industry and collective action with and on behalf of the immigrant church. To join a sea of glowing faces in flowing garb, facing a larger sea of shining young faces at their desks or swishing down the long halls of the hospital.

I will never know what it was like to be fresh out of high school and make the leap to this new life with a large group of age peers, thinking you knew what you were getting into, what your days would be like. When you and everyone else would wake up, what you would eat, how you would pray. When you could talk and when you had to hold your tongue.

I will never know the turmoil of feeling the winds of change on your face or in your hair, now that it was exposed to the elements once again. Of everything being turned upside down, everything you presumed would be eternal showing its true nature as fleeting. Of renewal and response to the Spirit and Vatican II.

I will (please God) never know the days of entrenched internal conflict, of community division, of camps and cliques and uncertainty of how to be sister together in the midst of radical change. To lose my large group of peers, to be one of the last ones still here, to wonder why.  I will never know the doubt of the years that followed, or the joy of growing stronger together in our charism. I will never feel the relief when we learned to talk together, to listen deeply, to act together for justice.

But I am here now, mingling my own life experiences which you will never know with yours. What it was like to grow up in a Post Vatican II church when there was not yet a new Catechism, listening to Hi God 2 in religion class with my head on my desk not knowing a rote answer to why God created me but just being constantly assured of God’s love.  Or growing up with the culture wars and increasing polarized divisions in church and society swirling around me. An adolescence spent in the waning years of the Cold War, only to watch the wall fall and the wars against terror begin. Straddling the line before and after the Internet age. A latch key kid and member of a small generation named with the letter x, labelled as slacker but feeling very much like an industrious link between what was and what is to come. Entering religious life as an adult, one of a very few, but connected by that reality to younger religious of both genders and various theologies across the lines in other communities from the very beginning.  Building relationships across generations within community too, mingling my life with yours.

This is a graced time of promise and hope. The future will be what God knows it can be, but also because of who we are and where we have been and how we are able to mix and mingle and navigate the twists and turns together.  We are the bridge to the religious life that is yet to come, and we pave the way through our individual experiences and the ones we create together. Our stories are mingling as we write the next chapter in this intergenerational tale of love, service, and faith. And that my friends is cause for celebration and praise to the God who calls us together.

Global Sisters Report: Nuns and Nones

GlobalSistersReportMy latest contribution to the larger conversation has been posted on Global Sisters Report: Nuns and Nones.  It’s a snapshot of my musings on some of the recent reports and happenings in the world of religion, namely the Pew Report documenting the rise of the “nones” – the 56 million americans who claim no religious affiliation – and the interest in the future of nuns.

In a society where the numbers of nones are on the rise, the number of nuns is declining. I believe it is possible to view the dynamic forces behind both trends as part of the same rapidly changing landscape of religious life and shared socio-political context of increasing inequality, poverty, violence and environmental destruction. This trend and shifting landscape also apply to the wider church, especially given that the numer of U.S. Catholics is also declining according to the Pew research.

This raises a number of questions for me. First of all, the attention paid to Catholic Sisters, combined with the not insignificant efforts to help ensure our future, make me think that somehow it matters that we are present in the church and society. But are we merely symbolic figures, or is the way we engage the signs of the times and live the Gospel of some relevance and importance beyond ourselves? If so, how can we remain relevant and engaged in the larger questions of meaning and justice in the context of a society which increasingly eschews religion? If I do not want to be limited or defined by popular culture images or stereotypes of nuns, how does my life of ministry and prayer lived in community witness to the Gospel in a sea of growing inequality and indifference?

Read the whole column over at Global Sisters Report

On being Matthew Crawley – Reflections on Leadership

GlobalSistersReportMy latest column has been posted on Global Sisters Report, in which I reflect on religious life through the lens of Downton Abbey, specifically comparing being a younger catholic sister in elected leadership to the experience of Matthew Crawley being the heir to the Earl of Grantham.

“There I was, sitting in the chapel with my Sister housemates, when I found myself thinking: ‘It’s almost as if I’m Matthew Crawley.’ … I am grateful for my random Matthew Crawley thought because it has helped me to come to grips with some of the responsibility I feel for the future. If I am honest, at times it is a heavy weight on my shoulders, as I suspect it is heavy on the shoulders of many younger members. How can we possibly follow in the footsteps of the women who answered the call of Vatican II so fearlessly? … “

Click here to read the entire column.

On Unicorns, Anomalies, and GV

unicorn_little_sister_button-r0a0b34445bf44ee383d2299c9776189a_x7j1a_8byvr_324Last weekend as I was mid-way through my second week of congregation leadership, I found myself thinking of my friends who were gathering in Arizona for the annual Giving Voice retreat for Catholic Sisters in their 20s and 30s.  I prayed in gratitude for Giving Voice, a grassroots network of “young nuns,” and in blessing for the next generation of GV Sisters.  My prayer is that the relationships they forge today will sustain them well into the future.

As it happens, I aged out of the 20s and 30s retreat a few years ago myself, which is a nice (and unusual) experience as a younger vowed religious … actually being too old for something! But this summer we had our first GV 40s retreat. It was an amazing experience to once again pray, play, and be with my age peers in this life, if only for a few days.  It was also perfectly timed to aid in my own discernment, given that it happened directly on the heels of our discernment retreat for the group of CSJP Sisters invited to leave their names in for congregation leadership prior to our Chapter.  I had decided to leave my name in, and it was a blessing to sink into that reality with other religious from different congregations who were my own age. One friend had even recently been elected leader of her own congregation which made me feel more normal and helped me to think that I was not entirely crazy.

Tracy Kemme has a post on Global Sisters Report reflecting on last weekend’s 20s and 30s retreat. As I read her column, I found myself remembering the light and love and laughter that filled my heart after my first GV retreat when I was a novice. I could have written her words myself:

At the close of this weekend that went way too fast, we gathered for prayer and to share what the retreat had meant to us. I shared that I felt normal. Usually, I am one of just one or two sisters with a group of peers, or I’m one of a just few young adults in a big group of sisters. In this group of young adult sisters, there was a natural understanding and a relaxed spirit. Women in our circle said they felt grateful, renewed, affirmed, energized, accompanied, strengthened and more.

Religious life is unusual … there is simply no way around that. There is also no way around the fact that, with the median age of Sisters in our communities rapidly approaching 80, being a younger woman religious in your 20s, 30s, or even 40s means that you are pretty much like a unicorn, in that you are one of a rare and exotic species. In community, you have different experiences of church, pop culture, and life than pretty much everyone else. In your circle of friends, you are walking a different path which they most likely respect but to which they cannot relate, no matter how much they try. And with the general public, you tend to elicit sheer disbelief when people find out that you are in fact a young Catholic Sister. “Really? … are you a real Sister?” … I have been asked, many many times.

So imagine the relief when you get together with 5 or 20 or 30 or 100 other young nuns.  You get to stop being a unicorn and just get to be yourself.  When I was a novice, this was so very important. My discernment was greatly aided by having a network of religious life age peers. It helped me to filter out what aspects and questions and experiences were the byproduct of my age versus what were real questions I had to deal with related to community, ministry, and prayer. GV is a sacred space for which I give thanks. Again, Tracy captures it well:

Younger, newer women religious need these encounters. Of course, we dearly love our own congregations and all of our sisters. Nothing could replace that; the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati are my home. … Being with peers in religious life, and I mean true peers, is indispensable for a young sister’s health – and exciting for the unfolding collaborative future of religious life.

I have grown into my identity as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace in company with my Giving Voice Sisters. The sacred space of GV has helped me to own that I am not, in fact, a unicorn. Younger Catholic Sisters do exist. We are vibrant members of our communities’ present even as we step into a future we cannot yet imagine, but a future in which we deeply believe.

As I read Tracy’s column, I realized that I am in a different space now. My circle of feeling normal has expanded from occasional GV retreats and conversations to who I am in community every day. I carry this circle of friendship and support with me wherever I go. There has been a level of integration for which I am very grateful. GV is part of my context and identity as a finally professed Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, even as I step into the circle of congregation leadership.

To be sure, being a young nun elected leader makes you more of an anomaly than a unicorn. A good young non-nun friend used that word to describe my reality the other day. It caused me pause, but on reflection it fits my present, very unusual reality. I am humbled to realize that I am serving in leadership of my community, a community which I dearly love.  The vast majority of my CSJP Sisters have been Sisters longer than I have been alive, and yet, here I am privileged to give my all for our present and as we build bridges to a sustainable future for the generations yet to come.

Giving Voice has been the gift that keeps on giving, especially as I step onto this path of leadership. There are by no means many age peers in leadership (I can count them on one hand), but there are some.  I also know that as all of our communities live into the reality of demographic change there will be more who are called to this adventure.  I am grateful for the elder Sisters who are recognizing this reality and mentoring the younger Sisters in their community. (If you fit that category, I highly recommend reading my friend Tere’s Open Letter to the Great Generation on Global Sisters Report. I also had a GSR column  recently on how this is a unique and important time for all the generations living religious life today.)

Most of all, I am grateful to my loving and mischievous God for breaking through and leading me onto this wonderful crazy path with unicorns and anomalies and friends and laughter and hope and trust and love.

Habits of Love – Global Sisters Report

GlobalSistersReportMy latest column is published over at the Global Sisters Report. It’s my attempt to engage the pesky and sometimes polarizing question of distinctive religious dress (aka habits) in a helpful way.

I am blessed to have younger religious friends, women and men, on both sides and in the middle of the distinctive dress question. Some of my sister friends are in communities that wear a habit. Most of my sister friends are in communities like my own that transitioned to simple dress almost 50 years ago, before we were even born. And some belong to communities that wear a habit for prayer, liturgy and ministry, but dress simply the rest of the time. This seems to be an option mostly for male religious, although I know a few sisters in this category.

As younger post-Vatican II religious, we made a decision to enter communities that have already made communal decisions about this question. We go where we feel at home. But in my experience, we do not judge those who make a different choice. We do not deride our peers either for wearing an “anachronistic costume” or for being a “plain-clothes nun.” Those labels belong to other generations, or perhaps should belong to none. 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.

Head over to Global Sisters Report to read the whole column.

Pope Francis on Year of Consecrated Life: Younger religious as both present and future

YearofConsecratedLifeLargeLogoTomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent. It is also the first day of the “Year of Consecrated Life,” which Pope Francis has convened and which  finishes in February 2016.  Today, the Vatican released a message from Pope Francis to consecrated men and women on the occasion of the start of the year. It is a beautiful and challenging letter, made even more so perhaps because, as a Jesuit, he is intimately aware of the joys, challenges, and promise of vowed religious life.

In my first read of the letter, I was especially drawn to to one particular passage. Pope Francis outlines three main aims of the year: to look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion, and to embrace the future with hope. The passage that caught my attention is in his discussion of this third aim:

“This hope is not based on statistics or accomplishments, but on the One in whom we have put our trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:2), the One for whom ‘nothing is impossible’ (Lk 1:37).  This is the hope which does not disappoint; it is the hope which enables consecrated life to keep writing its great history well into the future.  It is to that future that we must always look, conscious that the Holy Spirit spurs us on so that he can still do great things with us.

So do not yield to the temptation to see things in terms of numbers and efficiency, and even less to trust in your own strength.  In scanning the horizons of your lives and the present moment, be watchful and alert.  Together with Benedict XVI, I urge you not to ‘join the ranks of the prophets of doom who proclaim the end or meaninglessness of the consecrated life in the Church in our day; rather, clothe yourselves in Jesus Christ and put on the armour of light – as Saint Paul urged (cf. Rom 13:11-14) – keeping awake and watchful.’  Let us constantly set out anew, with trust in the Lord.

I would especially like to say a word to those of you who are young.  You are the present, since you are already taking active part in the lives of your Institutes, offering all the freshness and generosity of your ‘yes’.  At the same time you are the future, for soon you will be called to take on roles of leadership in the life, formation, service and mission of your communities.  This Year should see you actively engaged in dialogue with the previous generation.  In fraternal communion you will be enriched by their experiences and wisdom, while at the same time inspiring them, by your own energy and enthusiasm, to recapture their original idealism.  In this way the entire community can join in finding new ways of living the Gospel and responding more effectively to the need for witness and proclamation.

Ok, if I’m honest, it was this line that really drew my attention: “soon you will be called to take on roles of leadership in the life, formation, service, and mission of your communities.” Indeed. That “future” would be in a little over one month for me, as I begin my six year term as a member of our congregation leadership team in January. As you might imagine, I step onto this path with more than a little trepidation. But that is also balanced with a lot of love for my community and belief in the future of religious life. How wonderful to have this letter to reflect on and pray with during Advent, my own time of “waiting” for this new adventure to begin.

This is an unusual time in the history of consecrated life. Granted, the history of religious life is filled with “unusual times,” from the Ammas and Abbas who sought solitude in the desert and instead formed communities, to the call of Francis to rebuild God’s church which lead to a whole new form of religious life, to the suppression of religious during the French revolution which spread religious further into the new world, to the church’s own revolution in the form of the renewal of religious life after the Second Vatican Council which we are still experiencing in echoes and reverberations.

Today’s unusual time, from my perspective as a newer and younger religious, is a precious one. As Pope Francis so beautifully puts it, this is a time for younger religious, who are both part of the present and part of the future, to be “actively engaged in dialogue with the previous generation,” to be “enriched by their experiences and wisdom, while at the same time inspiring them, by [our] own energy and enthusiasm, to recapture their original idealism.”

While there have always been multiple generations in religious life, our current demographic reality means that there are 30 to 40 decades between me and most of my mentors in religious life. That makes this time all the more precious, and makes me grateful to be actively sharing my own energy and enthusiasm at a time when I can mix and mingle that energy and enthusiasm with those who have been living religious life, in some cases, longer than I’ve been alive.  I am so very grateful for the presence, love, support, and friendship of my Sisters of all ages.

Today’s unusual time is also a critical one, for the needs of the world and for the sustainability of our way of life to be a witness to God’s love in that world.  Looking at the reality of demographics and resources and our own ability to cross the divides can make it all seem a little bit crazy. But as Pope Francis reminds us, our hope in the future is not based on statistics or accomplishments or our own abilities. It’s based on “the One for whom ‘nothing is impossible.'”

I’d like to end this post by repeating these words from Pope Francis:

“This is the hope which does not disappoint; it is the hope which enables consecrated life to keep writing its great history well into the future.”

The generations that are living religious life today all believe in that future. We are inspired by the stories that God started in our founders and that continue to be written today. We know that God is still writing that story, and lucky us, spurred on by the Holy Spirit, we have the opportunity and obligation to co-create that future full of hope for all God’s people in need. Amen.

FOMO, Religious Life, and Vocations

i love rel lifeI recently listened to an episode of This American Life which expounded on the phenomenon of FOMO, or fear of missing out. In the podcast, Alex Blumberg (formerly of the Planet Money podcast, now trying to get his own business off the ground) is speaking to a venture capitalist, seeking to get him to finance said new business. From the episode:

Alex: And Chris [venture capitalist] is like a teacher handing me the answers to a test he’s about to give, explaining exactly what he wants to see from me in order to invest in my company. I need to project conviction. Check. And I need to instill FOMO. For you non-Millennials, FOMO is an acronym– Fear Of Missing Out.

Chris: Airbnb, multi-billion-dollar business, right? I was one of the first people to see the Airbnb page. And I pulled them aside and said, guys, this is super dangerous. You’re renting out a room in somebody’s house while they’re still there? … There’s no way this’ll succeed. That’s a $10 billion business today that I’m not an investor in.

Dropbox. I saw the Dropbox guys, and I was like, this is great and everything, but Google’s going to crush you. They have a thing internally called G-Drive, and it’s going to absolutely crush Dropbox. There’s no way this thing’s going to succeed. That’s a $10 billion business today that I’m not an investor in.

Alex: “A $10 billion business that I’m not an investor in”? That is FOMO. Once you have FOMO on your side, says Chris, you no longer have to ask people like him for money. They’re lining up to give it to you.

FOMO is an interesting concept.  As I was walking on the treadmill, listening to the podcast, I couldn’t help but translate the phenomenon of FOMO to religious life.

Conviction. Even though it makes absolutely no sense, as the picture says, “I ♥ Religious Life and Believe in its Future.” Really, I do! I know that this life is where I make the most sense, where I can experience and respond to God’s love and in the process (hopefully) help make the world a better place.

Yet I also realize that we are in a crazy transition time within religious life (sometimes called diminishment, although I prefer to call it demographic change). This makes it a hard sell, especially to young adults who look at religious communities and don’t see a lot of people who look like them.  When you ponder making a lifetime commitment to a pretty radical way of living, it certainly helps to be able to imagine who you will be living that with into the future.  I get that. It’s a challenge to be sure.  So yes, the landscape is shifting rapidly within religious life and joining religious life right now can look like a huge gamble. You might wonder why you would invest your life in this particular vocation now, at this time.

I obviously took the plunge and made the investment of my life, love, and energy in both the present and the evolving future of religious life.  And because I am a part of religious life at this time, I get to participate actively in how we navigate those shifts and where the ship of religious life is headed. Because I am here at this particular time in religious life, I have been able to soak in the wisdom, love, and laughter of some amazing women religious. Not only that, I get to call them Sister! Because I am here at this particular time in religious life, I have had the opportunity to build relationships and grow friendships with religious life peers across congregations, through my formation experience and participation in Giving Voice. My experience tells me, again and again, that this truly is a graced time in religious life.

Which has me wondering …. Not that we necessarily want to think of vocations and religious life in capitalistic terms, or even in terms of marketing, but what if we were able to express this graced transition time to young adults as something they don’t want to miss out on? FOMO it if you will. It’s an interesting idea, to be sure.

Join religious life now, and you get to help shape the future and navigate the demographic change.

Join religious life now, and you benefit from the wisdom, presence, and support of incredible men and women religious who will not be here that much longer.

Join religious life now, and, in the words of Pope Francis, you can help “Wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different way of acting, of living! It is possible to live differently in this world.”

The FOMO of religious life vocations. Food for thought during this National Vocation Awareness Week as more than 350 vocation directors gather in Chicago for the National Religious Vocation Conference convocation.