Spirit Days Welcome Talk June 29, 2017

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1 Spirit Days Welcome Talk June 29, 2017 Welcome to each of you and all of you. It is good for us to be here and to be together. Hopefully we will take time over these next days to tell stories, share our thoughts and insights, laugh, re-connect or maybe in some instances, get to know someone a bit better than we do now. Whatever happens, we all know that when we leave to go back to our ministries or volunteer services or lives of prayer, we go back enriched and renewed in our identity as Sisters of the Precious Blood. Patty told me the theme of Spirit Days this year is Unity. This talk is the fruit of reflections on the theme from the Easter season and John s Gospel through Pentecost and finally the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. It will be augmented with learnings and leanings from the Institute for Law and Religious Life which four of us attended in mid-june. More on that later. The gospel from the seventh Sunday after Easter, John 17:20-24, has great significance for us as we reflect on unity. Jesus prays: I pray not only for them (my disciples), but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me; that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you loved them even as you loved me. In these words we hear very clearly the vision Jesus had for his disciples, his followers, us. Jesus, who held both divinity and humanity in his one person longed for those who believed in him to experience that same intimate union with God. He encouraged, modeled, directed and inspired his disciples and us to make that unity real in our lives. 1 P a g e

2 Also at the Last Supper, after the disciples feet are washed, Jesus promises the Advocate, the Spirit of truth will remain with you and will be in you teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you Peace I leave with you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. Jesus reminds us that the union he effected in his preaching, in his healing, in his service, in his nourishing in the Eucharist will continue in the power of the Holy Spirit. As we do what he did: proclaim God s love, serve the excluded and marginalized, partake of Eucharist and become Eucharist for others, we will continue to live in union with Him and each other. As a Congregation founded in adoration before the Eucharist and in service to the poor around us, we might consider that we are called to unity in a sublime and splendid way. In our Mission Statement we say that we are rooted in Eucharistic prayer. If so, then we are also rooted in the mandate of union, unity and community. What might unity look like, here and now, in 2017, in the Congregation of the Sisters of the Precious Blood? If I had a mirror up here big enough so that we could see all of us at once, unity might look a bit like this diverse, unique, individual Sisters coming together to pray, to work for the future, to deepen relationships, to share a meal, to reach out to include those we may not know so well, to set aside the concerns of ministry or health and to be fully present to each other and the tasks at hand. Most importantly, this gathering would be an expression of the love that we hold individually and collectively for each other, for the world we serve and for the God who first loved us. I think by now, that we are all aware that unity and community are not uniformity. We ve all had experiences that proved that uniformity can actually stifle true unity. Expecting sisters of diverse families of origin, types of spiritual practices, experiences, training and education, leisure activities and habits to all act alike, look alike and speak from the same playbook is madness. It didn t really happen in the past when uniformity was expected. We simply tried a little harder to express our differences. Now we are challenged to find in our diversity invitations to and reasons for choosing to be one with another. 2 P a g e

3 How is unity possible? How can we live and express our community? As we reflect on our lives lived, on our prayers prayed, on our dreams both fulfilled and unfilled, we may recognize that whenever we are able to actualize a state of unity, it is the virtue of love that engages differences, seeks commonality, and looks to the common good rather than personal preferences. Love is not just a warm, fuzzy feeling, or liking someone. Love is an act of the will that allows us to love when convenient or inconvenient and whether we like a person or not. Jesuit anthropologist and theologian Pierre Teilhard saw the energy of love as what will unite all creation, including humanity, in the one great Omega point where Christ is all and in all? Once we learn how to love and how to be loved, we know what unity is, what community truly looks like, how mission makes sense for us. Love is about relationships, about others, and as religious, about how we can express that love in service. St. Paul waxes eloquent in the canticle of love in the first letter to the Corinthians and we can use his litany as a daily examination of conscience: Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. Teilhard, resonating with Paul s canticle, writes that: after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, (man) we will have discovered fire. Unity as Jesus shows us is not self-serving or inward turning. Jesus mission, the whole of which he entrusted to the church and by extension, part of which he entrusts to each religious community as its charism is expressed in Luke 4, He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. 3 P a g e

4 In Matthew 25, before Jesus ascends to heaven he commissions his followers, including us. We are sent to make disciples of all nations teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded. This is followed by the promise: and I will be with you always until the end of the age. The Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes described the mission of the church as healing and elevating the dignity of the human person, strengthening human society and helping humanity discover the deeper meaning of their daily lives. (GS 40) For us CPPS our mission is the particular gift given by the Spirit to the congregation in service to the church and the world. Although we live particular expressions of our mission as the needs of the world change, we are propelled by the unique charism of our Congregation and guided by the Holy Spirit through all ages and cultures. Today we express it as proclaiming God s love by being a life-giving, reconciling presence. We will be spending tomorrow talking about our governance structure. If we can look at governance as a vehicle that calls us to unity and ensures our full engagement in mission all our lives, we will be on the right path. If, however, we try to design governance in reaction to perceived rules and regulations or in reaction to leadership or authority, this exercise will be deadening. If we look at the work we are about in order to see if our idea or our agenda is included, we will be side-tracked. Because we have committed ourselves to one another, because together we believe in religious life, and the vows and the community that are its expression, because together we believe in our Precious Blood charism and most of all in our mission to the church and the world, we need structures, but structures that ensure that our mission continues to completion, whenever that may be and that ensure that we remain united in that mission. Structure, governance, serves our purpose and our mission, not the other way around. 4 P a g e

5 As one of the speakers at the Institute on Law and Religious Life invited us to do in the session on governance, I would like to invite you to take a balcony view, to stand above the details of the committee s hard work. In the balcony we can often see a different picture than we can on the ground and in the midst. We see patterns and connections, holes and singular elements disconnected. Being in the balcony facilitates being on the lookout for what will help us continue to move our mission forward and what might impede our being vowed religious. The most important question is not whether we like a particular governance structure or not, but whether it allows us, encourages us, enables us, empowers us to remain in mission for life in union with one another. In the presentation on governance at the Institute, the presenter used the image of governance piloting the ship. The ship is our mission and governance, i.e., the structure we have approved in Assembly and was approved by the Holy See, and elected leadership is the crew that keeps the ship on course that allows the congregation to be faithful in mission. When everyone wants to be the crew, the ship may eventually end up dead in the water, beached or becoming a cruise ship, all about us. Without clarity about our vowed life and about our mission we will begin to drift off course and we will cease being what we have been chosen by God to be. The presenter also spoke several times of the role of the superior as the point of unity. Whether we like the word or not, or by whatever name we want to call her, whether or not she is elected or appointed, whether she is a major superior or a local superior, she has the role of supporting and challenging the members as they live the vows and community in the service of the mission. Superiors join circles of local communities into the ever-widening circle of the Congregation. For many of us, our community s role in the future is not our own, for the future stretches out far beyond our individual lives. Are we willing or able to envision something that serves not only an aging population but which is also efficient, nimble and flexible enough to hold together and inspire a younger generation to unity in mission? Can we avoid changing just to have change or 5 P a g e

6 resisting change because we are comfortable with the way it is now? Can we continue to work toward the letting go that is necessary for the Spirit to birth something new in us? Do we recognize the gifts for the future already in the present? Do we need to try on different eyes so that we can see beyond the dying, beyond what appears as chaos, beyond what seems like failure or folly to find the urging of the Spirit among us? In a balcony view, we are invited to see a much bigger picture than the present. Can we listen and reflect and together in order to be led by the Spirit on a way that may not be immediately evident? Thinking of this reminds me of the story about a noble old nomad whose days were rapidly coming to an end. Before he died he carefully planned and left strict instructions to his children about who was to inherit what. He left instructions that the eldest was to be given ½ of what he owned, 1/3 went to the second-born, and the youngest child would receive 1/9. What he owned that was of most value was his herd of camels. At the time of his death his herd numbered 17. And he further insisted that in the division of the herd, no camel was to be harmed in any way. Those of you who are good in math already realize there is a problem. There is no way that the herd could be divided as the father had determined without either shorting one or the other of the children or cutting up a camel. After long discussions, some rather heated arguments, and finally despairing of their ability to negotiate a solution the children consulted an elder in the tribe, and brought the problem to him. The man pondered for a while and finally said he didn t know if he could help them, but he would give them his one and only camel, if that would help. On returning home with the camel, the children continued to argue and debate and fight about who would receive what. However, when they finally took a breather, one of them decided to do the math again. Now with 18 rather than 17 camels, they quickly realized that the eldest child s portion, one half of 18, would equal 9; one third would be 6 and one ninth of 18 would 6 P a g e

7 be two, which all together equaled 17 camels. Now they had the herd divided without harm and they had the extra camel to return to the elder with gratitude and appreciation realizing that sometimes looking at a situation with new eyes, having an open mind, and being willing to take a risk cannot only solve problems but can also bring about real unity. To keep our family unity, to do no harm and to come to a solution that benefits all, especially our camels, whatever they may be, we may need to let go of our old way of looking at things and re-discover the genius and wisdom of what we already have, at the same time be open to the Holy Spirit creating something new in us. As we give thanks Eucharist we recognize that all that we have, all that we are, comes from a good and generous God the giver of all good gifts. This also is what unites us we are all one in that we have nothing, and have been given everything. We are living in a time when it may be necessary to rethink everything in light of what the Spirit is asking of us. Are we willing to stand with open hands on the balcony, look with open eyes, embrace an open heart and act from an open will? If so, the future may have just become a bit clearer. Tonight, we pray that in these next days the Spirit will be present and active among us and will fill our open hands, hearts, minds and will with the guidance and courage to move forward in unity and for mission. 7 P a g e

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