To all the Sisters and Family of the Congregation of Our Lady

In the spirit of the Chapter, PUTTING GOD AT THE CENTRE

Sr Cécile MARION

Superior General

As you will remember, the orientations we agreed on at the Locquirec Chapter are not calls to action, but to place God at the centre of our lives. Whether in our community life, our mission, formation, vocation, solidarity work, journeying with lay persons, or organisation of the Congregation, God must be at the centre.

Putting God at the centre: what does that mean ?

Today’s feast of the Immaculate Conception helps us understand that ‘at the centre’ does not mean ‘in the public arena’: our God is discreet, hidden even. Nazareth and Bethlehem bring us back to where he made his home, deep in our humanity, in our hearts. And like Mary – and Alix – we must place what is hidden at the centre. Our lives as consecrated women are all in this act of conversion. Our Christian identity is itself all about conversion.

Our lives are not following simply an “idea” or a “value” but a person, and therefore our hope will never be simply an ideology, however beautiful and exciting it may be. Our lives of service, of responsibility, of mission, all represent for us conversion to our God, to his Gospel. At his call, we must be who we are – our true, non-uniform selves –, with Him, and with an open heart.

Putting God at the centre – and more...

Isn’t he already in place, « in the boat » ? Yes, he is there, but asleep: “Lord, does it not bother you?”

- that, after so many centuries of education, democracy, culture and civilisation, selfishness, hardness of heart, exclusion and condemnation all remain and flourish all the more, building walls and watch towers? that money, power and sex still present us, oh-so-easily manipulated human beings, with such temptation?
- that the powerful appropriate those they desire, or imprison those who challenge them, while nations utter spineless denunciations because they already have too much vested interest? that bombs continue to fall on those who have already lost everything? that madmen – fools for you, so they say – fire indiscriminately on innocent crowds or knock them down to then drive over them?
- that the earth’s tremors are swallowing up what has been built over generations? that the riches of our “common home” are being squandered by our careless living?
- that young people have no school to attend while others leave school early, not knowing what to do or whom to follow?

But our God has little to say! “Silence, be quiet!”… For there is a secret complicity between the noise of words and arms and our own violence. We still rely on our own strength, our intelligence, “our expertise”, never quite giving up our “power”, our hearts still closed to his Kingdom.

“How is it that you have no faith?” …So let us first of all welcome the silence, the calm which descends at his Word, and let us ask humbly for faith “as small as a mustard seed”. Then, with confidence we can take up the just struggle, we can return to the “task”, by the light of his Word.

In this the centenary of the death of Charles de Foucauld, we do well to remember his message: a whole life spent pursuing the lowest place, dropping all pretentions and using faith as our only weapon. To the point of feeling no bitterness when hopes are dashed :

“Once he became convinced of the existence of God, he could no longer live other than for him, but he discovered that living with him was another matter. As frequently happens in the lives of mystics, God often did not come to the meeting place.” (P. 70)

“It is principally pride that lies in wait at the heart of man” (Isaac the Syrian). Foucauld experienced this struggle in solitude and in his obsessions. His most painful description of this can be found in his Christmas letters of 1907, written from Assekrem Hermitage. He is fifty years old, and has known a period of wandering, joined the Trappists, lived in Akbes and Nazareth, survived battles and crossed the desert, often risking his life. Nothing has changed. No-one has come. His hair is falling out and he has lost most of his teeth. He is hungry, after giving his last bags of grain to some despised untouchables, black or half-caste, rejected by the respected noble tribes. “What the natives see of us, Christians, who profess a religion of love, is but neglect, ambition or greed, and in almost everyone they see indifference and hardness.” Now that he has nothing left to give, even the Haratins no longer come to see him. He remains totally alone. For ten years now he has been labouring in vain. He has lived the religious life for eighteen years. “One knows a tree by its fruit, and this shows what I truly am, a worthless servant.” It has been three months since he last received a letter from France. No-one understands this tenacious dissatisfaction of his, this constant movement which drives him, not to a proper monastery but to these cabins where the poor descend on him in huge numbers. He has obtained permission to celebrate Mass without servers, on condition that one Christian attend. None has come from this inhospitable mountain area. “Until the very last moment, I had hoped someone would come (…) May the will of the Beloved be blessed in all.” (P. 77-79)

In the boat that represents our lives, Jesus wakes frequently, not because of the storm, wind and lightning, but because he senses our distress, while the future he is shaping for us goes well beyond our expectations: “Is the inventor of the ear unable to hear? The creator of the eye unable to see? The Lord has not abandoned his people”.
He is the one “whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” .

Temptation presents us with places and opportunities for conversion: for letting ourselves be “evangelised” when “we are lost”, for letting God awaken the source which is his image in us. And with him, “cross to the other side”. For the boat was not built to stay on the shore. Are we ready to follow this divine “folly”?

Putting God at the centre, together:

“Who do you say I am?” This question to his disciples shows clearly that the Lord needs us.

In his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of Love”, Pope Francis addresses us as a congregation :

“To want to form a family” – and the CND is just such a family! – “is to resolve to be a part of God’s dream, to choose to dream with him, to want to build with him, to join him in this saga of building a world where no one will feel alone”. (n°321)

In the CICLSAL , document “Contemplate”, we are called in our consecrated lives to the following three priorities :

- bearing witness that “God exists, he is real, living, and personal”.
- being a place of closeness where we keep God company.
- - learning to keep an “open mind”: “in order to understand, we must move to another place, observe reality from different points of view … With a humble and open intelligence, ‘seek and find God in all things’ in the words of St Ignatius. God is at work in the lives of all people and in their cultures: the Spirit blows where he will. Strive to see what God has done and how he will pursue his work”.
“Some would prefer a purely spiritual Christ, with no flesh nor cross, similarly they seek personal relationships using only sophisticated equipment, screens and systems that can be switched on and off at will. Meanwhile the Gospel forever calls us to run the risk of meeting others face to face, of going towards their physical presence which will challenge us, towards their suffering and their needs, towards their infectious joy in this constant physical exchange. True faith in the Son of God made flesh is inseparable from the gift of self, from belonging to the community, from service, from reconciliation with the flesh of others. By his incarnation, the Son of God invites us to join the revolution of tenderness”.

“Without extended periods of adoration, of prayerful reading of the Word, of sincere dialogue with the Lord, our tasks quickly become devoid of meaning, we are weakened by tiredness and difficulties, and the fervour dies. The Church cannot survive without the lungs of prayer”.

Putting God at the centre, together, in 2017 :

In the spirit of the liturgical season of Advent, this means choosing to live our lives turned towards the coming of Christ :

“Let everyone who listens answer, ‘Come’.
I shall indeed be with you soon.
Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.”

As we celebrate the 400th anniversary of :
- the foundation of the first CND monastery in Nancy and the authorisation to teach day girls despite insistence on the cloister by the Council of Trent
- the approval of the Little Constitutions by the Bishop of Toul

twenty-two young professed Sisters from Vietnam, Hong Kong, Congo and Brazil will come together at the International Junior Sisters’ Meeting and over three months (March to May) will engage in
• intercultural dialogue, a deepening of their religious vocation and their belonging to the CND, all in Nancy
• a period of immersion in the communities of Europe
• a review of this experience at Taizé
• a retreat in Locquirec using the Spiritual Exercises
After an interruption lasting several decades, we are finally reconnecting with this experience of international formation which helps to build the “body”.

As educators belonging to an international congregation, we are called not to settle. Today, just as yesterday, “religious women would rather leave their homes and countries than abandon their apostolic work”.

The numerical shift of the Congregation – mainly present in Vietnam, Congo and Brazil, and no longer in Europe –, invites us to make a similarly daring move.

“Let us go elsewhere!”

To each and all, a happy and good new year 2017, together!

With all my love