More Spiritual Reflections

Spiritual Reflections


Starting Afresh from Christ: A Renewed Commitment to Consecrated Life in the Third Millennium

Jean Louise Bachetti, IHM
IHM Center, Scranton, PA
October 27, 2004

Starting Afresh from Christ:  A Renewed Commitment to Consecrated Life in the Third Millennium

I would like to begin my presentation with the words from the Book of Wisdom. In those words about the Spirit of God I find at once comfort and challenge.

“In each generation she passes into holy souls, making them friends of God and prophets.”

It has been my great privilege and humble experience over the years to be in the presence of holy souls— as you who are here tonight. To be on the holy ground of women whose pictures you see in our hall ways, my foremothers whose spirit still walk with us, and in the life-like sculpture outside the chapel of Theresa Maxis in whose hand I often place mine.

Tonight we are asked to examine a document entitled Starting Afresh from Christ: A Renewed Commitment to Consecrated Life in the Third Millennium. But I need to admit to you honestly that I was somewhat disturbed by the title. Still I have discovered that disturbance, a holy unrest, if you will, often leads me to investigate further. And so I ask myself, “Do I not start afresh each day as do my Sisters in community when I join them in prayer and mission? And I realize how important that consecration is when at the beginning of prayer with our local small community of three we prayerfully read the direction statement from our 2002 Chapter which begins with the words, “With a profound commitment to religious life…”  Therefore, what does that mean to start afresh and how do we renew our commitment to the consecrated life when many of the women religious who have remained faithful to their call never stopped valuing that commitment. Take for example, the renewal of our perpetual vows in jubilee celebrations, and on December 8th many of our Sisters take the opportunity to renew their vows of consecration in their parishes.  But do the words authentically reflect our lived reality? With that in mind, I have lifted pieces of the document in order to demonstrate the lived reality of women religious today and how the words of the document are made palpable in the here and now. Tonight I am about affirming our resolve and cheering us on as we continue to launch out into the deep.

Religious life has done some marvelous pirouettes in the 20th Century. The Bible uses the word “metanoia,” a turning around. We continue to spin with the changes, and like shooting stars find ourselves against the black backdrop of a world desperately searching for tiny points of light. It would seem to me that simply by virtue of the courageous changes we have made for the better since Vatican II, we are what the document states “Consecrated persons called by the Spirit in a continual conversion to give vigor to the prophetic dimension of [our] vocation (p.3).” That is an awesome responsibility giving vigor to the prophetic dimension. I dare to wager that we have not even begun to unpack that statement. I entered religious life in 1958 (I was two) before Vatican II. From my perspective, I believe women religious, more than any other group in the Church, have never stopped being fully engaged in the often-painful conversion of change and renewal. We have endured the crisis of dismantling and are convinced that God is “doing something new.” God better be! In that hope, the grace of God is fully manifest in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9) since we are making the grace of that hope our anchor through the choppy waters of fatigue and diminishment. Pope John Paul invites us to “cast out into the deep,” and more than casting out, women religious have waded and tread water in the deep and in the directive of this document have “broken open the horizons of dialogue and mission (p.2)” all the while being transformed themselves.

How have we done this? The document speaks of ongoing formation and  how “ongoing formation [is] no longer limited to one period of life.” We can readily attest to that realization. Our ninety-something year old sisters continue to engage in ongoing formation. Ostensibly, that ongoing formation has been the motion, the yeast in the flour; the kneading of the dough in our endeavor to engage in a spirituality of communion that has nourished and impacted our renewal. Look at the number of communities, who are continuing to educate their sisters in theology and spirituality through degree programs, conferences, workshops, retreats year in and year out. Is there anyone here who could deny the intensity in which we have pursued the more of the spiritual life? Yet the marvel of it all is that we are being transformed in the creating of something new, as we continue to say the hard yes to metanoia, conversion. Wondrously though, there is transformation among those with whom we minister! Our personal conversions have transformed us and have transformed others. That turning of our own personal conversion is the pebble in the pond and the consequent ripple effect of that pebble breaking through the still water. As a result there is “a new phenomenon being experienced in these days [of] some members of the laity asking to participate in the charismatic ideals of Institutes and has given rise to new institutional forms of association (p. 29).” There are today 27,000 Associates affiliated with religious congregations seeking to share as non-members community and spirituality.

 From my point of view, one significant area where transformation has taken place has been through the document’s use of John Paul’s call to a spirituality of communion. Implicit in a spirituality of communion is the building of community. The experience of women religious living in community has become a gift to our lay sisters and brothers. As Sisters living a communal life we naturally create communities of faith among our colleagues, living out the skills the document encourages us to use of “co-responsibility and participation” (p. 12), without “being superior or inferior in our common path of following Christ” (p.12). In order to do this there must be mutual trust and respect for one another. I reflect on my own experience as a principal. The most important aspect of my role was that of developing community among the faculty grounded in praying together and I quote from the document, “seeing what is positive in others” (26).  If ever we could give a gift to our world and our church today as a spirituality of communion, it is the gift of seeing what is positive in others. We cannot begin to see what’s right with our world until we engage in dialogue, meaningful dialogue with others because as Margaret Wheatley so aptly writes in Turning to One Another, “it’s not the differences that divide us. It’s our judgments about each other that do. Curiosity and good listening bring us back together”

It has been a long and arduous process over the years since Vatican II  developing good communication and dialogue—remembrances of chapters and open mike sessions and round table discussions as part of our growing pains? But the rewards have yielded an abundance of knowledge, insights, and growing relationships. As a result we can model what the document calls us to do in the practice of a “spirituality of communion by giving new life to relationships and programs (p. 26).”

With community building through dialogue we have worked at encouraging collaboration within our church and within our ministries and with other congregations. Here in Scranton a gathering of congregations called Collaborative Ministry addresses the needs of the poor and has successfully made a difference through a program called Summer Splash. Globally our congregation works with others as Charter Members of the African Sisters Education Collaborative. Manifest in this example is a model of collaboration that since Vatican II has stretched the imagination of Sisters in working together for bringing about the reign of God. Governance in our congregations today respects diversity and engenders mutuality and honors one another’s gifts. Our government models affirm the rights and personal authority of leadership while they promote mission, collegiality and personal and communal growth among the membership. Truly prophetic in its vision and authentic in its spirituality it allows for what the document envisions as a “new kairos, a time of grace (11).” The potential is great if we continue to allow the Holy Spirit of Wisdom to pass into our souls making us holy and truly human.

Joan Chittister writes in her book, The Fire in These Ashes,

The point is clear: False holiness betrays us. The world does not need
religious who live in clouds and darkness and intent on encapsulating
themselves in pseudo-spiritual bubbles. The world needs religious
who, for the sake of others, live in this world well (172).

I believe we have never ceased from taking on the pressing vision to be “leaven, sign and prophecy (p. 11)”, to be “a living memorial of Jesus’ way of living and acting (p. 20)” through our universal call to holiness. We as Sisters know first hand what this document recognizes as a widespread “demand for spirituality” today and have used with abandon and I quote “the genuine charismatic creativity of our founders (p.12) coupled with “the particular richness of the ‘feminine genius of consecrated women(p.8)’.” Try to count the volumes Sisters have written on spirituality and theology since Vatican II. Look at the artwork that is the outgrowth of Sisters’ personal spirituality. Listen to Sister musicians whose music sings the Gospel message. Sign on to our website and share the mission of Jesus through IHM windows. I celebrate our fresh new way of showing the compassionate face of Christ through Sisters who are providing “a spirituality which is more open to becoming a teaching and pastoral plan for holiness within consecrated life itself and in its radiance for the entire people of God (p. 19).” With that said I would like to take a few moments to exemplify how women religious now, particularly the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary are showing the face of Christ to our world using “feminine genius” inspired by the Wisdom of the Spirit who is breathing new life into religious life, the charismatic gift to the Church.

Powerpoint presentation to the song Spirit God by Patricia Scalese, IHM

Images of IHM Web site, Reflection Books, Journey, Dance, Collaborative Ministry, African Education Collaborative, Heartworks, and Theresa Maxis.

May the Spirit of Wisdom pass into each us forming us as holy souls in our sincere desire to be friends of God and prophets. Let us now take a few moments to hold this prayer in our hearts.