I will never forget the day when I first learned about the four American church women who were killed in El Salvador 24 years ago today. It was 1988 and I was a junior at a Catholic girls high school. One of the Sisters from the community who sponsored my high school came to our religion class to speak about her work with the people of El Salvador, which was still embroiled in a brutal and bloody civil war. She brought pictures of the children and families she accompanied and shared the story of her ministry. She also told us the story of Sister Dorothy Kazel, OSU, lay missioner Jean Donovan, Sister Maura Clarke, MM, and Sister Ita Ford, MM who had been beaten, raped, and murdered by five members of the National Guard of El Salvador just a few years before, because of their presence and ministry to the people of that country. Their bodies were left in a shallow grave along an isolated roadside. I remember being shocked by the story. I also remember being overpowered by the realization that this Sister who was talking to us and sharing her own story also put herself at risk of a similar fate. And it became clear to me that her reason was love. Love of God and love of the people of El Salvador.
Love … that’s the real meaning of Sisterhood. Love is worth living for. Love is worth taking risks for. Love is even worth dying for. What else does the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus teach us?
In the words of Sister Ita Ford in a letter to her goddaughter, written just a few months before her murder:
I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you…something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for…something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can’t tell you what it might be — that’s for you to find, to choose, to love. I can just encourage you to start looking, and support you in the search. Maybe this sounds weird and off-the-wall, and maybe, no one else will talk to you like this, but then, too, I’m seeing and living things that others around you aren’t… I want to say to you: don’t waste the gifts and opportunities you have to make yourself and other people happy.
Chances are, most of the people who will tune in to the second episode of the ‘reality’ show The Sisterhood tonight do not know this real life story of the power of Sisterhood. Hopefully, however, the message still comes across that vowed religious life isn’t about giving up make up, or hiding away from the world, or fleeing the drama that comes with being human. In my experience, it’s about finding something worth living for, something that energizes you and causes you to share your God given gifts in a particular way to help address the unmet needs of the world. It’s about responding to the transformative love of God in a way that challenges, supports and transforms you as you seek to transform the world in the company of your Sisters. It’s about love.
In the words of Pope Francis in his message for the Year of Consecrated Life: “You will find life by giving life, hope by giving hope, love by giving love.”