Unguessed blessings

(The golden grasses on our rooftop patio)

As I wait, rather impatiently, for Malcolm Guite’s new collection of poetry, After Prayer, to be released, I am spending time with his collection Sounding the Seasons. Fitting for this weekend, and which I’ve likely shared in years past but am happy to share again, here is…

Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving starts with thanks for mere survival,
Just to have made it through another year
With everyone still breathing. But we share
So much beyond the outer roads we travel;
Our interweavings on a deeper level,
The modes of life embodied souls can share,
The unguessed blessings of our being here,
Threads of connection no one can unravel.
So I give thanks for our deep coinherence,
Inwoven in the web of God’s own grace,
Pulling us through the grave and gate of death.
I thank him for the truth behind appearance,
I thank him for his light in every face,
I thank him for us all, with every breath.
– Malcolm Guite
(this poem appears as the third poem in a sequence for All Saints)

 

This Thanksgiving weekend I am giving thanks for lives interwoven. I am thankful for my Loretto community, my family and friends, and all those I have met through my studies and varied works.

What is emerging this fall is the opportunity to deepen relationships. I’ve experienced a deepened sense of intimacy with my Sisters through our Mary Ward Letters Group (a monthly reflection group on the writings of Mary Ward, drawing on my experience at the Mary Ward Summer School). At our first gathering in September, I was delighted and inspired by their enthusiasm and sharing. Learning more about Mary Ward together is enabling us to learn more about each other as well.

(The peace pole in the rock garden of Loretto College)

My ministry work at Regis College is leading me into deeper relationships with classmates through the opportunity to c0-facilitate a retreat from the First Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola with a friend. We have been leading a group through Inner Peace in Divine Love, a four-week retreat that expands the final exercise of the Full Spiritual Exercises, ‘The Contemplation to Attain Divine Love’. According to Michael Hansen, SJ who adapted the First Spiritual Exercises, “[The retreat] begins with the note that love consists in mutual communication. St. Ignatius continues, ‘The lover gives and communicates to the loved one what they have, or something of what they have, or are able to give; and in turn the one loved does the same for the lover. Each gives to the other’ (Spiritual Exercises 231). This giving and receiving relationship of love cradles my retreat. It goes to the very roots of who I am.”  (p.28) The spiritual conversation that is flowing during this retreat is so life-giving. I listen to others share their experiences of prayer and of God’s presence in their lives, and I feel thankful and humbled to receive them. I feel thankful and humbled to be received in return.

(Autumn colours are slowly appearing)

Lastly, my ministry work with the residents of Loretto College is leading me into deeper relationships with them. I facilitated an Ignatian leadership workshop for a group of the residents at the beginning of the term, and, in larger numbers, we participated in the Global Climate Strike together at the end of September. Our monthly social gatherings with the Sisters and residents help us to build relationships of support and make Loretto College a home for each one of us. We are a community that lives together, cares for each other, and brings each other into the heart of God through prayer.

And, of course, this weekend I am taking time to connect with and pray for all the ones I love, especially the ones who live far from me.

(The prairie grass reminds me of my prairie home)

 

 

Where two or three are gathered

We are walking along a new path as the Canadian Region of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loretto Sisters). We met this past weekend to be inspired and to inspire one another.

Gathering at Loretto College

Our new leadership team gathered us together to share the ‘sparks and snapshots’ of our lives and mission. We gathered – sisters, associates, colleagues – in a spirit of interconnection and interdependence, recognizing that our lives are bound up together in the Body of Christ. It was a day of sharing and much laughter, squeezing in as much as we could into our 1, 2, or 4 minute ‘sparks’ of life. We were connected across the boundaries of time and space with our sisters in western Canada; voices on the phone suddenly making present those absent. Our theme, “Where two or three are gathered, there is hope,” a variation of Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them,” was our guide and source of blessing.

It was truly a hopeful gathering, marking movement out into the new, with announcements of our soon-to-be-open House of Welcome/Discernment, and new explorations for the Mary Ward Centre and others in ministry. We have entered into a period of renewed life and vitality in Canada, modelled by a leadership team focused on participation and collaboration. Each person in our region has an integral role to play in our present and our future.

As a newer member of the congregation, it was uplifting and inspiring to be part of the gathering and to witness the renewed sense of life. Since I entered the congregation nearly five years ago, I’ve felt a tension between institutional contraction and expansion. Rightly, a lot of attention and energy up until now has been focused on a degree of contraction within the congregation; closing Loretto Abbey and moving some of our sisters to Presentation Manor were major changes to community life. But now that these events have taken place and there is some stability, there is room to look outward and to see what newness and possibility God wants to inspire in us.

This abundance of newness coincides, happily, with the start of the new school year. I love this time of year. I still get a thrill on the first day of class. Actually, I get a thrill even just getting ready for it all to begin again. I’ve decided I need a motto for the new year, one that will help me keep things in perspective when, inevitably, I feel overextended. I’ve decided on: Go deep. Keep it light. (And the back-up motto, inspired by a recent visit to Invermara: Ice cream is always a good idea. I’ll keep that one for my final profession ring…)

I want to engage deeply with the material given to me this term. Learn as much as I can. Be serious about learning and knowing. Search for answers and, undoubtedly, discover more questions. I want to take myself much less seriously. Have more fun. Laugh every day. Play tennis and run. Write a TV comedy script with a friend, and short stories and poems. Give the First Spiritual Exercises. Read the letters of Mary Ward. Welcome young women to religious life. Discover newness in places I have not ventured, in people who attract and inspire me, and above all, in the God who fires the world with love and beauty and truth.

Move-in Day at Loretto College
Ice cream is always a good idea…

Sharing the mystery

CIMG3677Gazing at the mysterious

I have an uneasy relationship with Facebook. To me, this form of media is part blessing and part curse. I love that I can stay connected to my family and friends while living thousands of kilometres away from them but I dislike the distraction it can become when I read my newsfeed and I get caught up in the lives, and frequently, the opinions, of others. Especially when I feel I ought to be present in the moment of my day and living my life fully right now. Facebook often seems to take from my life rather than to give.

But this week I have been pondering mystery. Mystery abundant and at work in my life and in all of our lives. By mystery, I mean the mystery of God. I’ve been thinking about my life journey thus far (especially as I am getting closer to the halfway mark of my year in the Philippines) and about how God has been guiding me.

Sometimes I’ve caught myself thinking what am I doing here? Not in the sense that I want to go home, but just, why am I in the place that I am now? As much as I think about it, I can’t really explain it. I don’t know why I have a preference for religious life over marriage and family life or even just being single. It seemed to me growing up that I would get married and have a family but then…. I didn’t. I discovered that it isn’t what I desire for my life. For some reason, this life, where I am right now, is what I desire. I recognize that I am living in mystery.

As I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed this week, I am struck also by the mystery of other peoples’ lives. The mystery of God working in them, shaping them, giving them rich and abundant lives, whether what they share on Facebook is joyful or sorrowful, angry or fearful. We’re sharing mystery all over the place. It’s in the photos of my younger brother’s high school graduation. It’s in the photos and posts of my older brother’s job and travels in Vancouver. It’s in my friends’ photos and posts about their children and growing families. It’s in posts about death and grieving. It’s in posts about tragedy and wide-scale suffering. It’s in the opinions and rants that show the world what we care deeply about. Facebook is permeated with the mystery of life. And it’s beautiful.

This week, by the grace of God, all I feel is gratitude for the way that social media allows us to reveal, to some degree, the mystery of our lives. When we share, it helps us to understand that we are interconnected. Our lives our important to one another, just as they are important to our creator. Our lives are the constant revealing of mystery.

To live the Constitutions

A follower of Mary Ward, just like a Jesuit, can only be someone who has experienced what it is to be loved unconditionally by God, who has at least to some degree attained indifference, who knows (again experientially) what is it is to be a forgiven sinner, who has been profoundly attracted by the person of Jesus Christ and become committed to his project, who has learnt the art of discernment through being wisely accompanied, at least once, in making a life-changing decision, who has entered into the suffering and death of Jesus Christ and received intimations of his risen life and glory, who embraces herself, her life, other people and all creation as gift, hence becoming sensitized spiritually to recognize God in all things. Without these graces no one can understand, still less live, the Constitutions. They are not addressed to anyone else.

From: O’Leary, Brian. “‘Hither I Must Come to Draw’ Mary Ward and the Ignatian Constitutions.” The Way 51.3 (2012). p.35

I love this passage. I came across it during my reading last week and it has stayed with me. I have been pondering it for several days. For me, it sums up beautifully the relationship between the Spiritual Exercises and living out our Constitutions. We live by grace.

 

Women at the heart of the church

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Studying the Constitutions at the Eco Park

I am in love with this way of life. The more that I learn about the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the deeper I want to go and the more that I find that resonates with the graces I received on retreat. We are currently studying our Constitutions together, taking it section by section. Rather than a series of rules and regulations, the Constitutions read more like a guide for living a full and happy life with God. It’s such a rich document. It relates the history of the Institute as well as setting out the way of life we are called to live.

It amazes me that it was only recently (in the 1980s) that the IBVM was finally able to fulfill Mary Ward’s vision for her ‘least Institute’: to take the same as the Society. Meaning that we have the same Constitutions as the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). In her time Mary Ward was only able to go so far as to adapt the summary document of the full Constitutions, the Institutum (adapted and presented to the pope in 1622), but she wasn’t able to get it approved by the Holy See. It was considered quite radical to suggest a community of missionary apostolic women who would engage in spiritual matters. Here’s a selection that outlines the vision and mission of the Institute, although the language we use today to describe the activities of the mission is not quite the same (e.g. we don’t really use words like ‘evil living’ or ‘women of profligate life’ anymore).

From IBVM Constitutions Volume I: Institutum:

1.       … She is a member of a Society founded chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defence and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine.

  • by helping them be brought back from heresy and evil living to faith and goodness and to a certain special obedience to the Holy See,
  • by gathering together and disposing the people for public preaching, lectures, and any other ministration whatsoever of the word of God,
  • and further by means of the Spiritual Exercises, the education of girls and unlettered persons in Christianity,
  • by teaching Catechism and the reverent use of sacred things and by giving that education to them in schools and communities which seem most suitable for the common good of the Church and their own particular good whether they have chosen to spend their lives in the world or in religion;
  • and finally by leading such people to the spiritual consolation of Christ’s faithful and by disposing them for Confession and the other Sacraments, and by arranging for Preachers and Spiritual Fathers to be send to the country and to the more neglected places;
  • also by seeking out women of profligate life and preparing them to receive grace through the Sacraments so that Doctors, Preachers and Apostolic men of the Church of God may have more leisure to attend to greater and more universal affairs.

Moreover she should show herself ready to reconcile the estranged, compassionately assist and serve those who are in prisons and hospitals, and indeed to perform any other works of charity, according to what will seem expedient for the glory of God and the common good.

Given the restrictions placed on women at the time, I think it’s incredible that Mary Ward and her companions undertook these activities and gave their lives to God out of great love. It took centuries for the Church to fully understand the gift of women’s apostolic congregations and to approve them in the manner that their founders had been divinely inspired. (Praise God for the Second Vatican Council!) Reading our Constitutions provides a mini history lesson as well as a manifestation of the working of the Holy Spirit. The sisters who have gone before me were incredibly tenacious and generous women. They were scorned, misunderstood, and at times manipulated, and yet they continued to strive for Mary Ward’s vision for the Institute.

From Constitutions Volume I: General Examen, Chapter 1:

{1} This least Institute was not brought into being by human means. Mary Ward’s inspiration in 1611 was to take the same of the Society [of Jesus] so understood, as that we were to take the same both in matter and manner, that only excepted which God by diversity of sex hath prohibited. In 1631 Pope Urban VIII ordered the suppression of her Institute. Nevertheless, through the heroic efforts of Mary Ward’s faithful followers, the call to work for the defence and propagation of the faith and for the education of women and girls continued.

…In 1877 the Institute was confirmed by the Holy See; it was not until 1909 that Mary Ward was acknowledged as its founder.

….In the renewal following Vatican Council II, the whole Institute reflected on Mary Ward’s vision and her desire to adopt the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus for her Institute. As a result of this reflection new Constitutions were approved: for the Roman Branch in 1978, for the Irish Branch in 1985, and for the North American Branch in 1986.

In 2009, coinciding with the 400th anniversary of the founding of the IBVM, a renewed Constitutions was approved by the Holy See. The ‘modern document’, as we refer to it, is an updated version that clarifies certain sections of the Ignatian Constitutions that are no longer valid due to changes in canon law. It is also breathes a beautiful new spirit into the Institute and is written like a piece of poetry.

From Constitutions Volume II: Chapter 1:

1.2 We are companions of Jesus,
women at the heart of the Church,
called to follow Christ
in a discipleship of love,
ready to labour
with freedom and joy,
that in all things God may be glorified.

1.3 The Ignatian tradition,
interpreted through a woman’s eye,
is our graced heritage.
In prayer, Mary Ward was led to see
that this was the way God wanted for her Institute;
this was the pathway to holiness
that she and her companions were to walk.

As I reflect on the Constitutions, I am drawn back to my retreat graces of discipleship and friendship with Jesus. I can see how life in this Institute is my pathway to holiness and that it allows me to live fully the graces I received and as the person I was created to be.

As we continue to study the Constitutions I will write more about them. In this post I’ve basically described some of our history rather than our manner of living so stay tuned for more!

On Retreat

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We’re making a retreat! For the next month our home away from home will be Sacred Heart Retreat Center in Quezon City. The long retreat is an essential part of our IBVM formation. We make the 30 day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola once during our novititate and then again several years later before we make our final vows.

What are the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola?
(the following is taken from Ignatian Spirituality – a fantastic online resource!)

“The Spiritual Exercises grew out of Ignatius Loyola’s personal experience as a man seeking to grow in union with God and to discern God’s will. He kept a journal as he gained spiritual insight and deepened his spiritual experience. He added to these notes as he directed other people and discovered what “worked.” Eventually Ignatius gathered these prayers, meditations, reflections, and directions into a carefully designed framework of a retreat, which he called “spiritual exercises.”

Ignatius wrote that the Exercises: “have as their purpose the conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment.” He wanted individuals to undertake these exercises with the assistance of an experienced spiritual director who would help them shape the retreat and understand what they were experiencing. The book of Spiritual Exercises is a handbook to be used by the director, not by the person making the retreat.”

“Ignatius organized the Exercises into four “weeks.” These are not seven-day weeks, but stages on a journey to spiritual freedom and wholehearted commitment to the service of God.

First week. The first week of the Exercises is a time of reflection on our lives in light of God’s boundless love for us. We see that our response to God’s love has been hindered by patterns of sin. We face these sins knowing that God wants to free us of everything that gets in the way of our loving response to him. The first week ends with a meditation on Christ’s call to follow him.

Second week. The meditations and prayers of the second week teach us how to follow Christ as his disciples. We reflect on Scripture passages: Christ’s birth and baptism, his sermon on the mount, his ministry of healing and teaching, his raising Lazarus from the dead. We are brought to decisions to change our lives to do Christ’s work in the world and to love him more intimately.

Third week. We meditate on Christ’s Last Supper, passion, and death. We see his suffering and the gift of the Eucharist as the ultimate expression of God’s love.

Fourth week. We meditate on Jesus’ resurrection and his apparitions to his disciples. We walk with the risen Christ and set out to love and serve him in concrete ways in our lives in the world.”

– See more at: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises/what-are-the-spiritual-exercises#sthash.JrlX61n9.dpuf

Ever since I first heard about the 30 day retreat I have longed to make one. It seems like such an incredible opportunity to spend a month in prayer in such a special and focused way. I feel so grateful to have this experience.
Please pray for us while we are on retreat!
I’ll be back again in May!

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Next steps

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One more sleep and I’m off. Off on the next step of this journey. To parts unknown and people unknown, and basically, a life unknown. The early hours of New Year’s Eve will find me flying over the U.S. and then across the Pacific Ocean to my new home away from home in the Philippines. For the next year, I will be living in the IBVM Formation House in Quezon City (part of metro Manila) with three other novices. We will live together as an international community comprised of Australian, Vietnamese, and Canadian women.

I’m looking forward to meeting my new companions and I’m also excited to spend the next year learning more about Mary Ward, the history of the Institute, Ignatian spirituality, religious life, and spend more dedicated time in prayer. The anxieties and worries I’ve felt over the past few months have slowly been subsiding and are being replaced by happy anticipation and a feeling of adventure.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been preparing for my move as best as I can. [With a wonderful Christmas interlude, of course, filled with festive fun and recreation – and the requisite happy hour(s)!]

Reading about the Philippines islands, the people, and the culture, as well as Australian and Vietnamese culture and customs, has fueled my excitement to travel and experience a new way of life. I’ve been stocking up on what I will need for the year (appropriate summer clothing – not easy to find in the midst of a Canadian winter!, books, etc.), and taking time for prayer and reflection.

During this time of preparation and transition I have been seeking the intercession of one of Mary Ward’s first companions, Winifred Wigmore, to help me on this journey. Although I don’t know a great deal about her (I hope to learn more over the course of the year!), I admire her spirit. She was a great friend of Mary Ward, she was counted on to undertake difficult tasks, and she was even imprisoned for supporting Mary’s work. I think her pluckiness and deep love for her friend is a good model for me to follow, and I have confidence that she will help me along the way.

I hope to continue my blog throughout the next year but I expect there will be a break of a month or so while I get settled in and transition to life as a novice in formation. I will do my best to update you all as soon as I can. In the meantime, I will be praying for you all and I ask you to please pray for me too!!

Goodbye for now! Paalam muna sa ngayon!

Manila Philippines from the air Aerial Pictures Metro Manila