Celebrating the Year of Consecrated Life
By Maria Cimperman, RSCJ
An Invitation: In anticipation of the Year of Consecrated Life, I was invited to consider three questions that flow from Pope Francis’ calls to us. The first and second questions come from challenge to us to Wake up the World!
- From what must the world awaken? (Wake up from what?)
- What must the world awaken to? (Wake up to what?)
- The third question comes from the two foci, “rejoice” and “console,” in Rejoice!, the booklet based on Pope Francis’ words to religious offered by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL). How shall we as religious offer our charism very particularly this year to console and to rejoice?
“Wake Up the World!” From what?
To wake up the world in light of our call to prophecy is quite powerful. Pope Francis reminds us that “Evangelical radicalness is not only for religious: it is demanded of all. But religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way. … Religious should be men and women who are able to wake the world up.” Prophets hear the Word of God and speak it. Prophets both name how we have gone astray from God’s vision of a world of justice and peace and remind us of God’s vision, to what God invites us.
Knowing that the call to Wake Up! is for ourselves as well as for the world, there are three places where I hear a call to wake up the world. The first two are responses to reality around us that embody two extremes: paralysis and relentless activity. When we see so much vulnerability and devastation in the world today, from climate change to smoldering conflicts and outright wars, fear and despair can take root in us and paralyze us, in mind and in body. If I think I am solely responsible for the world around me, I indeed should be paralyzed by my delusion, for I have forgotten who I am and who God is and that God is intimately in all.
I can also be paralyzed when what I see in front of me has no space for perspective or reflection.
Imagine looking at a picture so closely that there is only an inch between your nose and the picture. We cannot see well at this point. I can’t see borders or edges of possibility in this space; there is no room for God’s movements between what I see and me. If I don’t back up a bit in order to really see, I can think I have no impact, and thus demean my capabilities and God’s movements.
Beyond paralysis, and between the spaces, there is hope.
The other extreme is relentless, even frenetic, activity. When we have no end to activity, we run the peril of missing what is in front of us. We run the same route again and again but see no more than the first time. In fact, we see less each time because we think we know what is here, and now we are looking for the next place, often with greater speed because we sense we have no time.
Such relentless activity can lead to a mentality that more repetition of the same ‘this is the law, this is the truth’ will have staying power and convince people. This is the opposite of thoughtful activity. Depth is lacking, a depth which becomes visible if we look again with eyes open to what we cannot yet see.
Christian hope is rooted in the real yet leaves room for change and creativity because God is in such activity. Hope finds us when we are reflective, seeking to act as God acts, seeking to love as God loves. Relentless activity and the superficiality it endorses are dissipated by attentiveness. Advent attentive waiting, anticipating, is an image of such hope.
“Wake Up the World!” To what?
As a religious today, I sense we are being called to wake up the world to three calls: encuentro/encounter; religious imagination and creativity; and communities of communion.
This Year of Consecrated Life is calling us all to greater depth, to encuentro. An encounter signifies depth rather than a superficial meeting. The encuentro is first with God. Pope Francis says several times early in Evangelii Gaudium that we are invited to an encounter with Jesus. “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least openness to letting him encounter them.” The encounter is with Jesus, who takes us as we are. Ours is a God who can only love, whose name is Love. Encuentro is our call, rooted in our baptism with all the people of God. We are called to wake up the world to a God who is Love and who creates us as love and for love. The encounter is with us as we are, with our wounds, vulnerabilities and hurts, as well as with our hopes, dreams and longings. It is this relationship, this encounter, that grounds and nourishes us so that we can work toward the transformation of systems and structures that are unjust as well as open ourselves to God’s transformation in us.
Encuentro is also with one another. Brazil is where I first realized the power of an encuentro. I was there for an encuentro with fifteen other Religious of the Sacred Heart. Two of us were from the United States and the rest were from Latin America. The language we used for a month was Spanish. My Spanish might be mercifully described as “upper beginner.” How can someone with only basic Spanish have an encounter? By seeing. By listening to words and beyond the words, to the faces and tone of voice. Because the other also chooses encounter.
How different life looks when we encounter!
Opening ourselves to encounter, we awaken to the potential of community, and here we wake up the world to the second call: to create communities of communion. Rooted in God and open to encounter with our neighbor, we are better able to see the “oneness” that we are in God, even amid great diversity. We come to see that not only are all welcome – all are necessary.
The call is to find ways to live our common global humanity.
This does not mean creating community will be easy, only that it is necessary. Part of the awakening is realizing there is something deeply rooted in our humanity that connects us. One of our Brazilian sisters has spent over 30 years in the Amazon with the Myky people. She shared that the Myky language has no word for ‘live’ (vivir). The only word they have is convivir – to live together. We can only live if we live together.
As we know, while this is essential, it is not easy. At a conference and pilgrimage focused on Janet Erskine Stuart, RSCJ, this past summer in England, I met Sister Phil (Philomene) Tiernen, one of our Australian sisters. She was amazing. In the short span of ten days with her I experienced encuentro. She not only wanted to get to know me, and I her, but she also called forth the best in me. She wanted to stay in touch and continue our religious life conversations.
Three weeks later she was on the plane shot down by a missile over Ukraine.
Phil and I had connected, and at depth, and now she was calling me to connect with a land and people I knew little about. My life and that of the people of Ukraine and Russia are now inextricably linked. I am also now linked with all the people on that plane and their loves. I don’t yet know what to do with that. I do, however, know that at liturgy the Sunday after she died, I heard “This is my body, this is my blood, given for you” differently. I heard Phil also saying to me and to all of us, “This is my body, this is my blood, given in love.” She is calling me to read these signs and these times with the gospel of love. I daily pray to be open(ed).
Third, we are called to wake up the world with our religious imagination and creativity. We can together create the world God longs for, the world we long for. We are invited to “possibilitize.” Religious imagination, rooted in God and fostered in communities of hope, can create change on a global scale. Hope and imagination are intimately connected, and as Christians, our hope is in our God. From this horizon we see transformation is possible and that we can risk love again and again because we are loved.
Rejoice and Console
We are now invited to wonder. “Wonder” is a powerful part of the moral imagination because here you open yourself to possibilities. Creativity is invited. I invite you to wonder: How shall we offer our charism to console and to rejoice? Within this Year of Consecrated Life, how might we console?
While there are many ways to ‘wonder’ through my charism, I chose some related sections from the Constitutions of the Society of the Sacred Heart for some direction as I pondered and wondered.
Console: How shall we offer our charism to console?
The RSCJ mission is to make known the revelation of God’s love, whose source and symbol is for us the Heart of Christ. Our charism thus calls us to discover and reveal God’s love and to be the heart of Christ in the world today. So, I wonder, how might we console? Our Constitutions say: The pierced heart of Jesus opens our being to the depths of God and to the anguish of humankind. Jesus draws us into His movement of adoration of the Father and love for all, especially those who are poor (#8).
Two calls emerge here.
Name what we see. The prophets heard God’s cries and the cries of God’s people. We must listen, hear, and make known and heard the cries of our wounded humanity and wounded earth.
We must name the suffering. Too often people suffer in silence or their cries are not heard where they must be heard. Lament is part of our Judeo-Christian tradition. To lament, naming what must not be, is possible because we are people of hope. We lament because we believe so much more is possible. If we had no hope we would simply despair. We lament because we hope.
Love is not in the abstract but in the particular … so love will lead us to make common cause with the poor. How might we love like this? By listening attentively, allowing space for encounters. Solidarity means that the joys and hopes, the cries and anguish of my brothers and sisters are mine as well. My humanity is demeaned or lifted up when that of another is demeaned or lifted up. Phil Tiernen’s death by missile is calling me to listen a lot. I lament all the people involved in this war: the people of Ukraine and Russia immersed in war, creating war missiles, shooting and being shot at. Violence and conflict are also present in my city. I sense Phil Tiernen’s death is, if we allow it, a powerful call to us to consider conflict, violence, forgiveness and reconciliation. How do we reveal God’s love in places of conflict and violence?
A third call comes from paragraph #32 in our Constitutions: We want to be discerning communities, living in awareness and sensitivity to the Spirit. This attitude makes us responsive, in our mission, to the sufferings and aspirations of our sisters and brothers. It helps us to respond better to the calls of God in the world around us, and it enlightens us to make choices more true to the spirit of the Gospel.
Rejoice: How shall we offer our charism to Rejoice?
Our Constitutions state: The community takes to heart the need to create a climate which favors experience of God, sharing among ourselves and with others (#26).
Since this Year of Consecrated Life is also a jubilee year celebrating 50 years since Vatican II, I wonder if we would find a way to offer our Sacred Heart extended family further opportunities for steeping in our God and common charism? This could then be extended by all to an even wider community, welcoming all. The opportunities would be a jubilee gift.
When we share like this, we share the gifts God gives us, and this leads to rejoicing in all that our God does in our lives.
One of our eldest sisters recently offered us “Praying at 93,” a beautiful, wide-visioned, honest, global, personal witness. Here are two snapshots from her gift to us:
It is like breathing – something I do without knowing it, though I know when I stop! I breathe in harmony with God’s own breathing over our amazing planet – so lovely we are dumbstruck at times. At other times I assert my creaturehood and use the Psalmist’s words to cry ‘Oh God, my God, how wonderful is your Name over all the earth.’ And I know in doing so that God listens to my voice. That sense of God’s personal involvement in my prayer is something relatively new. Silent praise wells up without my knowing how, and I get lost in the mystery, as an astronaut in outer space.
Chesterton once said that if a thing is worth doing it is worth doing badly. I often think of that when I sit down to pray. My mind and imagination keep darting about even as I hear the Spirit say, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ Of late, instead of trying to center down, I follow the dance and find it always leads me to some corner of the real world where God is waiting: a barracks in Afghanistan where a soldier grapples with a demon saying, ‘End it all,’ or a room on my corridor where someone tries to remember the way to the dining room.
We are drawn and attracted to prayer, and sharing this intimate relationship, even briefly, invites us to greater depths. That is true whether we are 23 or 93.
A second possibility for rejoicing came forth as I read, Rooted in him, through contemplation, we wish to be women who create communion (#6). I wondered how we might be women and men who create communion when I came upon some advice:
Through our mutual trust, the sharing of our prayer and life experiences, through our love and loyalty towards one another, we come to find real joy in living together, welcoming our gifts and our differences of culture and mentality. Our desire to live in mutual love helps us to overcome our egoism and to work through our moments of tension, open to forgiveness and reconciliation (#31).
Part of rejoicing is sharing when we overcome challenges. I wonder what difference it would make to share stories of community and persons working through conflicts? Sometimes they seem so large when we think we are the only ones who struggle. When we celebrate the differences and the conflicts we worked through we can witness to efforts of peace.
Creating communities of communion does not guarantee peace, but it is a step toward it. Valuing the other as God’s beloved and seeing diversity as gift, not a difference to be eliminated, changes how we see ourselves and one another.
Live radical availability/disponibilidad
Our province recently completed a series of prayer and dialogue gatherings. At one, a sister said that after praying with our new document on lifelong formation, she felt like she had “entered again.” A vowed religious for over 50 years, she found herself committing again and even wrote to the provincial team to offer her availability for whatever and wherever she might be needed.
The same is true for students in our school in New York City, who in math class started designing prosthetic hands and using a 3-D printer to create them for other young people. They found an unmet need and are going at it, hands and all.
I too am invited to radical availability, a Suscipe to Jesus lived out through my charism in religious life and for the Church and world.
These are all hope-filled invitations, looking at the world around us and offering our charism to be the love of Christ in the world today. Our success is not the point, but our effort is. God does the transforming – of us and of our world. We seek to participate – with love, to wake up the world, to console and rejoice.
Maria Cimperman, RSCJ, is Associate Professor of Theological Ethics at Catholic Theological Union, and was recently named the Director of the Center for the Study of Consecrated Life at the school, a responsibility she will take up in February 2015. She wrote this article for the Religious Formation Conference publication InFormation.)