Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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Renewal – Obedience

Mary Ward’s obedience to the will of God led her to found the IBVM.

The vow of obedience is a topic I haven’t yet broached on this blog. Last October/November I wrote about the vows of poverty and chastity but didn’t get around to obedience (a Freudian slip?). I became engrossed in my immersion experience in Lipa and didn’t feel drawn to write about obedience after that. But the lack of a post has been duly noted and will be rectified at some point in the nearish future.

As I read through the archive material on obedience I became very aware of how differently the vow was lived out in the pre-Vatican II world of IBVM religious life. I have great respect for the sisters of that time who lived the practice of being sent for mission without any consultation. That would be a great challenge for me. I have to admit that I feel deep gratitude that I am living in an era of religious life where that is no longer the practice. Here are a few selections from the 1967 Renewal Chapter that stood out to me. I suspect that the living out of the vow of obedience has continued to evolve since that time.

The apostolic nature of obedience is basic to our vocation and its ultimate norm is the will of the Father, sought and found through a deep spirit of faith in the decisions of superiors whose role it is to “serve rather than please”.

A key aspect of the newer approach to obedience is the prior consultation with the sisters before the superior makes a decision. This is rather a mutual ‘discernment of spirits’, listening to the Spirit, than a democratic majority rule…

The stress today is upon total life commitment rather than minute prescriptions, upon the importance of forming one’s conscience, upon obedience as ‘being sent’, upon individual discernment regarding exceptions, upon personal responsibility for the permissions one asks, upon the necessity for mutual openness and humility.


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Renewal – Chastity

Chastity frees us to move out into the world and to respond with love.

I’ve written about chastity before so I won’t go into much detail here. But as I read the Chapter of Renewal notes, I was struck again by the beauty of the vow of chastity and its gift of opening us up to the world.

The motive of Chastity is love of God; the result of Chastity is instense love of neighbour; it is nourished by a spirit of prayer. Our Chastity frees us for deep, personal relationships with one another. Rather than a protective attitude, it engenders a continual growing in love, and a continuing going out to others. 

This makes demands on us: openness to the Holy Spirit’s urging; a learning to accept love; mutual acceptance and reciprocal giving. It is God Who first loved us and Who gives us the capacity to love. The test of love is not emotion, but trust and service; ultimately love is a mystery.


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Renewal – Vocations

Mural depicting scenes from Mary Ward’s life

As I read through the minutes of the 1967 Chapter of Renewal, I was struck by the concern about vocations, and particularly the shortage of vocations to meet the demands for ministry. It seems to me that the vocation shortage then can’t begin to compare with what we are experiencing now, however, it helped me to see that the decline in vocations has not been sudden but has been in effect for some time. I was struck by the Institute’s reflection on the cause of the decline in vocations and I wonder if it is still applicable today.

There is a need of study into the causes of the present vocation shortage: the unstable culture of the astro-jet age; the widened opportunities in the lay apostolate; and the ‘identity crisis’ in religious life itself.

Might we not be being called now by the Holy Spirit to draw others through the sign of loving community. Perhaps the problem lies with our ‘image’ within the community, where lack of charity weakens mutual trust and forebearance. Today’s young women are especially sensitive to a lack of real community witness to the “Communion of Saints”. At reception, each is accepted as ‘a child of the Institute’. How can this be realized more fully?


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Renewal – Friendship

Mary Ward’s Circle of Friends

Friendships are an important, frankly, essential, part of religious life. Friendship strengthens community and is a source of grace for living out the vows. Allowing deeper friendships within community life was recognized during the period of renewal.

From the 1967 Chapter of Renewal:

Our interpersonal relationships depend upon our experience of love in our houses – there exists great room for ‘shading’ here – and basically on our relationship with Christ.

The young finally professed have special need for our understanding. A beginning might spring from a real awareness that things are different today, that we do not yet have the ‘answer’. Particularly effective is the ‘apostolate of (one’s) presence’, the power of ‘one kind, loving, understanding woman”.


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Renewal after Vatican II – Religious Life

 

Mother Theresa Dease, founder of the IBVM Canadian Province.  

For the past month or so I’ve spent a couple of hours each week reading in our Loretto archives. I’ve long been curious about the modern history of the IBVM in Canada and so for part of my second-year novitiate formation, I am doing a sort of independent study. My interest at the moment is Vatican II and the effects of renewal on the Institute in Canada.

To gain a full appreciation of the changes that took place after Vatican II, I had to start my reading much earlier. I began my reading where our earliest significant documentation has been collected, around 1900, with the records of Chapters (major decision-making gatherings of the Institute). It’s intriguing to read about the monastic customs the Institute had adopted and to see the attention and detail paid to very minute aspects of daily life. It’s definitely not the way of life of the Institute I recognize today.

I’ve since worked my way up through the decades. For the past couple of weeks I have been immersed in the 1960s, fascinated by the Renewal Chapter of 1967 and the follow up Chapter in 1969.

From the documents I have read, mostly preparatory materials and meeting minutes, I get a sense of the excitement of the time. Prior to these Chapters, there was extensive consultation with Institute members. I have scanned through stacks of questionnaires related to community life, prayer, and mission. It’s a fascinating look at the Institute’s response to the Vatican’s suggestion that religious institutes go back to their roots and re-discover themselves through the vision of the founder.

I was amazed by the exhortation I read from a priest advisor to the Chapter encouraging the Sisters to experiment. He urged them to experiment widely – for the next 20 years! – and listen to the Holy Spirit to see where it leads. I am struck by the openness and the bravery of the Sisters to discern beyond what they knew and what they were comfortable with regarding religious life.

There’s so much that I would like to share that it’s too much for a single blog post. So instead I will share a quote or two each day on one aspect of renewal. To begin, here is a selection on the beauty of religious life that I have taken to my prayer.

Religious are to be signs that are not only seen and heard, but which become ‘carriers of a message’ in order to help others to ‘ratify’ their commitment to Christ, to effect a change of heart, of attitude (in Japanese: ‘how your heart lies’)…The sense of person, and growth in deeper love depends upon reverence. Relationship to persons, ‘real community’, ‘to make others joyful’, is the test of Christian maturity.

Yet our witness must be meaningful in this world (not the moon). We have need to render our witness plain, to eliminate whatever blurs that witness. The more natural we are the more supernatural witness we give. Only then does our witness – through the renunciation of the positive personal values involved in the vows, a renunciation fired with love – become a representation of love for God, and the request for return of love in living faith. Our existence partakes of the ‘scandal’ of the Cross which points outside itself to the ‘explosion of divine love’. It is an anticipation of Christian death freely chosen now as a loving decision for God. ‘Normal in any field’ we are nonsense unless Christ is alive, the Lord, now! We are the answer to the ‘death of God’; we witness not only to the existence of God, but His presence of love.

Taken from: Minutes of the 1967 General Chapter of Renewal, June 28 – July 30, First Session, Book 1

Loretto Abbey, Toronto


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Living Simply

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Five weeks on and I’m getting used to being home. I’m diving into my classes and meeting new people on campus and in the neighbourhood. I’m not quite sending down roots yet but I’m getting to know the soil, preparing to be planted.

So much of what I experienced in the Philippines last year is present with me here in Toronto. I think of my boys at Sarnelli often and of my experience with them, living simply and openly. I desire to live as simply as possible here in Toronto. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about what that might look like.

As part of our Institute’s celebration of Mary Ward Week, we participated in a workshop entitled “Living Simply, Living Well”, facilitated by Ann McGowan from the Mary Ward Centre. Ann shared a variety of resources with us and invited us to challenge our understanding of economic growth and wealth. We briefly talked about alternatives to current models of growth and consumption and about investment in things aimed towards the common good (for example, libraries, the arts, etc.).

That discussion continued through my participation last week in a Jesuit Forum discussion group focused on Pope Francis’ encyclical on the care of creation, Laudato Si. Our group had a fascinating and far-ranging discussion about Canadian mining practices, current U.S. politics and recent protests, as well as alternative cultural movements like minimalism and freeganism and freecycling. I went away feeling buoyed by the way the Holy Spirit seems to move through small grassroots movements. When I get discouraged by the seemingly unstoppable societal movement towards excessive consumption and waste, these counter-cultural movements bring me a whole lot of consolation – increases in peace, love, and faith.

I’ve already written about the vow of poverty that I will eventually take, here and here, but poverty and living simply continue to be on my mind. I’ve started volunteering to serve breakfast to the homeless on Saturday mornings and it has increased my desire to not only live simply but to get to know and accompany those who are truly materially and spiritually poor. I feel like God is really pulling me (or pushing me?) in the direction of being with the poor and I am doing my best not to stand in God’s way. I don’t know where this will lead but I trust that consolation will follow. I have a feeling that living simply will be an evolving act of faith.

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