Newly minted novice

Last Thursday, December 10, 2015, the feast day of Our Lady of Loreto, I was received as a novice to the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loretto Sisters) here in Toronto.

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As the day approached, I felt a mixture of joy and fear. Joy for this next step in my discernment and formation with the Institute, but also fear of the unknown and all of the newness that lies ahead when I go to the Philippines.

To prepare myself to be received, I spent time in prayer and reflection, using a booklet on consecrated life as my guide. I really only used the first couple of chapters of the guide, focused on the heart and mind of the consecrated person (identifying the call to religious life) and the response of the consecrated person (saying yes to the call). These alone provided plenty of fuel for reflection.

Experiencing a call to religious life is mysterious. It is hard to explain the drive and longing felt by someone called to religious life: the desire to give fully of oneself in the service of God and God’s people, and the profound desire to know God. I find it very difficult to express how much I long to know God, to understand God’s plan for the world. I have so many questions for God. I also feel a deep desire to serve God by caring for all people. And over time, I feel more and more drawn to life in community. I pondered all of these things as I waited to be received.

During the reception, I felt peaceful and joyful. I was moved by the joy of the sisters who participated in the reception, and I felt (and feel!) so grateful to be part of this community. There is so much life and love here.

I received the Loretto cross (which I happily and proudly wear) and gifts to help with my discernment during novitiate: a bible, the IBVM Constitutions, and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. All of these will come with me to the Philippines and help to guide me.

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So now, as a newly minted novice, I am trying to live fully each day with the community here and love these sisters as much as I can before I depart. And I am continuing to pester God, to try to know him better, and be open to the gifts and graces he has given me.

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Venerable Mary Ward, foundress of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for us.

 

 

 

Happy Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola!

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Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). I have a real soft spot for St. Ignatius and his spirituality. Even though it was only fairly recently (just over 3 years ago!) that I discovered him, his methods of prayer and discernment have changed my life, helping me to find God in all things.

Mary Ward, the IBVM foundress, had a deep understanding of Ignatian spirituality and many of the practices of Ignatian spirituality permeate the Institute’s way of life.

Check out this great video about St. Ignatius to learn more about this amazing saint!

When calamity strikes

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By nature, I’m a fairly conscientious person. I like to get things done. I make timetables and lists, and I check the “To Do’s” off as I finish them. I like itineraries. I guess what I really like is predictability and a sense of control.

I’ve noticed over the course of the last few months, however, that the more I try to order and schedule my life, maximize my time, and be the most efficient I can be, I end up getting knocked totally off course! Case in point: for the past couple of weeks, I had diligently spent time in prayer and reflection in order to prepare for our big Canadian Provincial meeting that was to take place at the end of March. It was my first time participating in such an event and I was really excited about it. I had my notes carefully prepared, and I was looking forward to sharing my thoughts with the sisters. But then last Wednesday, calamity struck!

15 sisters, 3 de la Salle brothers, and several of the staff at the Abbey came down with norovirus. The next day, 4 more people were hit (including me, which makes this illness #4 or #5 I’ve been stricken with since Christmastime – which, by the way, better not be indicative of my future in religious life!). By the weekend, only a handful of people had been spared. I’m happy to say that everyone is recovering well, but we did have to postpone the big meeting. I was disappointed. Even amid severe stomach cramps, I had hoped that somehow we could still make it happen.

Instead, I used the quiet time (immobilized on my bed) to read about Mary Ward’s companions. Since reading a few biographies of Mary Ward earlier in the year, I have been very curious about the lives of her first companions. Not much is known about these women other than what is revealed in correspondence and some of the Institute’s historical documents. These women were quite young (some joined as young as 15 years old!), adventurous, dedicated, and faithful. They endured severe poverty, illness, uncertainty, and persecution. They were put in charge of schools and the formation of novices, were put in positions of authority in foundations in foreign lands, and were required to make difficult decisions. They often went years without seeing Mary Ward, with only letter correspondence to stay in touch. Many of them died while still young (30 years old and younger). Yet they were faithful to Mary Ward’s vision, to their call to religious life, and to the community.  They inspire me and I aspire to grow to be like them – to be steadfast and faithful (in sickness and in health!) and to be open and responsive to God’s working in my life.

And maybe, just maybe, to relinquish the “To Do” lists once in a while.

Mary Ward’s charism

It has been a very peaceful and quiet week at the Abbey. Last Sunday, my friend, Fr. David Bellusci, OP came to Toronto to give the sisters their Lenten retreat. From Sunday evening until yesterday at lunch, there was a hush over the Abbey. I really enjoy silence and solitude so even though I wasn’t actively participating in the retreat (had to go to work), I still benefited from the quiet atmosphere. There was a definite sense of prayer and tranquility, which was a lovely way to begin the season of Lent.

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*****

As mentioned in my last post, I wanted to write a bit about Mary Ward’s charism. For the last month or so, my candidacy director has been teaching me about the charism. I discovered that I had been totally wrong about what the charism is! Whenever anyone asked me about the community’s charism, I would always respond “Well, I think they are mostly a teaching order.” That, my friends, is not what the charism is! I guess that might be considered their apostolate (but don’t quote me on that either), or apostolic work. But it’s not the charism – whoops.

The charism, is, in fact, something much larger. Charism is a gift, a call to service and it is intended for the church (the people) rather than just for the individual or individuals in a community. Leading up to the full elaboration of the charism for her Institute, Mary Ward experienced three insights. The first was that she was not meant to join one of the established communities (Poor Clares, Benedictines, Carmelites) but something ‘other’ and this ‘other’ would give glory to God. Her second insight guided her in the structure of the Institute, and she was inspired to “take the same of the Society”, meaning that she was called to adopt the structure of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), something that had not been done by a female community before. Her final insight provided the fullness of the charism: that the spirituality of the Institute would nurture in its members an interior attitude of freedom (meaning the freedom to refer all to God, or find God in all things), justice (being redeemed or saved by God, made pleasing to him, surrendered to God), and truth (also referred to as integrity – a wholeness or unity between the interior and exterior of a person).

[From the IBVM Canada websiteWe look to Mary Ward’s vision of faith to inspire us and to enable us to understand our common vocation. We desire to foster that interior freedom of spirit, deep sense of justice, love for truth and cheerful attitude which she regarded as essential to fullness of life in her Institute.]

These insights occurred over the space of several years, which really seems to confirm Mary Ward’s trust in God and her patience and faithfulness in waiting for God’s direction. I think it also indicates that we are called to continual growth, and as our relationship with God matures and deepens, more is revealed to us. Mary Ward’s charism is beautiful and represents an ideal. I suspect it will take me a long time to grow into it. Real surrender, vulnerability, humility, and trust are involved, and I struggle with all of those things.

Happily, Lent provides an opportunity to be purposeful in prayer, to be present to God, and to examine those parts of myself that need to grow. I hope that all of my friends and family who observe/participate in Lent will feel renewed by God’s presence in their lives.

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the freedom to refer all to God

On Wednesday, we had an evening reflection entitled “Praying with our Experience”, facilitated by Sr. Margaret Kane, CSJ.  As the first in a series of special community sessions for the Year of Consecrated Life, Sr. Margaret led us through a reflection on Mary Ward’s gift to the IBVM and to the world.

We were given a series of images of Mary Ward (posted below) to meditate on and questions to guide our reflection. It struck me as the sisters were sharing their reflections, how much they love Mary Ward, how she continues to inspire them, and how she has influenced their lives.

Many of the sisters talked about her courage, her determination, her resolve to follow God’s will no matter the opposition or obstacles she faced. The images show Mary Ward as a woman of vision, a woman who is grounded in the person of Jesus, a woman who was free to always move forward.

Sr. Margaret then talked about one of Mary Ward’s gifts to the IBVM community: the freedom to refer all to God. Much like St. Ignatius of Loyola, Mary was able to find God in all things – in her apostolic work as much as her contemplative prayer life. Her sense of freedom extended to her relationship with God, whom she called Parent of Parents and Friend of Friends. For Mary, God was at the centre of life.

Sr. Margaret encouraged us to be like Mary Ward and to pray using our daily experiences. Through the daily Examen prayer, we can look upon our day through God’s eyes, moved by the Holy Spirit to see God working in the stuff of our daily lives, and find the freedom to give all that we have to God.

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Tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of Mary Ward (we have been celebrating Mary Ward week this week, beginning with Wednesday’s reflection, and school Masses on Friday, and culminating tomorrow). We will have a special Mass and community gathering to remember Mary Ward and reflect upon her life. I feel very happy to be here for this celebration and to witness the impact Mary Ward has had on the women I live with and the larger community in Toronto.

That Incomparable Woman

Each night I try to spend time doing some spiritual reading. Right now I am reading through biographies of Venerable Mary Ward, foundress of the community. By getting to know her better, I hope to get to know the community better too.

To be honest, I didn’t know quite what to think of her when I first heard about her a couple of years ago. I had read a fairly brief history of her life, had found out that shortly after she had founded the community, it was suppressed by the Church, and that she was not formally acknowledged as foundress of the community until 1909. I wondered who the heck this woman was behaving contrary to church tradition – why did it take so long for the church to recognize her? I wasn’t too sure that she was someone I actually wanted to get to know better.

But I persisted. I read a bit more, and spent time praying with a little pocket book of her quotes/sayings I was given. She lived in the 1600s and her style of writing was sometimes a challenge for me to understand. I puzzled over her insights on prayer and the interior life. Slowly, I understood a little better and felt drawn to her.

Which brings me to my current reading. I have finished reading a wonderful book entitled That Incomparable Woman, written by Mother Margarita O’Connor, ibvm and have started on a two-volume biography on Mary Ward’s life by Mother M.E. Chambers, ibvm. Both of these woman have written beautifully about Mary Ward. It’s inspiring to read about Mary’s own discernment and the path she took to religious life. While I can’t go into as much detail here as the books go into, I will give a quick overview of her life. I am sure that as I make my way through the candidacy program, I will come back to her life again and again. But for now, I would like to introduce you to a new friend…

Mary Ward was born on January 23, 1585 in Yorkshire, England. Over the course of her adolescence she was increasingly drawn to religious life. In 1606, she entered a convent of Poor Clares at St.-Omer, France as a lay sister. She lived outside the convent and was responsible for begging alms and food for the sisters. She soon realized that this was not the life God was calling her to. The following year she founded a house of Poor Clares for Englishwomen at Gravelines in France, but God revealed to her that she was not called to the contemplative life.

Instead, she resolved to devote herself to active work and returned to England. At the age of twenty-four she found herself surrounded by a band of devoted companions determined to labour under her guidance. In 1609 they established themselves as a religious community at St.-Omer, and opened schools for girls. The venture was a success, but it was a novelty.

Her inspiration was to create a community of women founded on the model of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). In the 17th century, that kind of freedom for women religious met a lot of resistance. The work of religious women was then confined to prayer to be carried on within the walls of a convent. There were other startling differences between the new institute and existing congregations of women, such as freedom from enclosure, from the obligation of choir, from wearing a religious habit, and from the jurisdiction of the diocesan.

Opposition to this new way of life eventually led to suppression by Pope Urban VIII. From 1629 onwards, Mary’s communities in Prague, Vienna, Cologne, Trier, northern Italy and eventually Liege were all closed, and the sisters were urged to return to their families or to join other approved religious communities. Only the sisters in Munich survived because of the protection of the Elector Maximilian, although they lived in extreme poverty for a number of years.For several months in the winter of 1631 Mary was imprisoned in a Poor Clare convent in Munich by order of the Inquisition. When she was released, she and several companions went to Rome, where she proclaimed that she was neither disobedient nor a heretic.

At the express desire of Pope Urban Mary went to Rome, and there as she gathered around her the younger members of her religious family, under the supervision and protection of the Holy See, the new institute took shape. In 1639, with letters of introduction from Pope Urban to Queen Henrietta Maria, Mary returned to England and established herself in London. In 1642 she journeyed northward with her household and took up her abode at Heworth, near York, where she died in 1645. The stone over her grave in the village churchyard of Osbaldwick is preserved to this day.

Excerpted and adapted from: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15551c.htm

Malcolm Guite

Blog for poet and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite

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