Tag Archives: future of religious life

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.

God of Surprises

a surprising sunset!
a surprising sunset!

My experience of God is often one of surprise. It seems that when I open my heart, God finds a way in, often catching me off guard. It was so lovely to read this experience described in the words of Pope Francis this weekend at the beatification of Paul VI:

“This is the perennial newness to be discovered each day, and it requires mastering the fear which we often feel at God’s surprises.

God is not afraid of new things! That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways. He renews us: he constantly makes us “new”. A Christian who lives the Gospel is “God’s newness” in the Church and in the world. How much God loves this “newness”! …

Here is where our true strength is found; here is the leaven which makes it grow and the salt which gives flavor to all our efforts to combat the prevalent pessimism which the world proposes to us. Here too is where our hope is found, for when we put our hope in God we are neither fleeing from reality nor seeking an alibi: instead, we are striving to render to God what is God’s. That is why we Christians look to the future, God’s future. It is so that we can live this life to the fullest – with our feet firmly planted on the ground – and respond courageously to whatever new challenges come our way.”

Truth be told, not only am I surprised by God, I often experience God as a someone with a pretty wicked sense of humor. And sometimes as a trickster too! As in, playful with a good sense of humor and not afraid to call my bluff or play the sneaky Holy Spirit card, calling me to something new before I even know really where I am going.

  • The God of surprises led me back to my Catholic faith, through twists and turns and friends, after a ten years as a strident “ex Catholic.”
  • God playfully led me to discover my passion for peace through justice, even in the midst of some experiences of pain and grief.
  • Another surprising God moment (in an email from my pastor) made me consider that maybe, quite possibly, I had a vocation to religious life
  • And then God surprised me by guiding me to a community of fun, faithful, and fearless women who seek to live peace through justice in their daily lives. God led me “home,” to a community of women I have come to love, despite age gaps, diminismhment, or fears, a place where I can be my best me.
  • And then, God surprised me with a group of religious life age peers across congregations who make me laugh, keep me sane, and make me love my community even more and believe with all my heart in the (surprising) future God has in store for religious life.

These surprises which led me to the corner of Susan and St. Joseph are ones that keeps on giving.  As Pope Francis says, God is continually surprising me, opening my heart and guiding me in unexpected ways. For real … and for that, I am so very grateful!

Grief, Play & Friendship – New Global Sisters Report Column

GlobalSistersReportFor the past few months I have been a monthly contributor to the Horizons Column at Global Sisters Report, dedicated to the reflections of younger Catholic Sisters. My latest column was just posted. It’s not the column I was planning to write this month, but it is the one that kept coming to my heart and that my fingers wanted to type. I generally find that in such cases, what I am writing needs to be said and shared.  Here’s a snippet:

I recently found myself playfully adapting the opening line from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Thinking about, and praying for, some younger Catholic sister friends who are grieving the loss of dear wisdom women in their religious communities, I repurposed the quote in my mind and heart: “It is a truth increasingly acknowledged, that a younger Catholic sister blessed with friendship in community, must be in want of religious life age peers.” …

Increasingly, my experience of religious life friendship – both intergenerationally in community and with religious life age peers – has confirmed my belief that engaging in play together makes us better able to grieve and live into the unknown future of religious life.

You can read the rest over at Global Sisters Report.

And on that note …. I am headed out of town this weekend for some much needed “play” time with a Giving Voice Sister friend!