Here we are with just under nine months to go till our General Chapter: roughly the period of a pregnancy! A time to “bring forth” together this meeting which, every six years, sets the life-pulse of our Congregation. A time to ask Peter Fourier and Mother Alix to help us be born again as “Sisters of Our Lady”.
- “Listen, daughter of Our Lady”:
I recently read the following statement on a door frame leading to the chapel of the Franciscan convent of Greccio: “If the heart does not pray, the tongue labours in vain.”
The Christian Brothers are celebrating the tercentenary of the death of Saint Jean-Baptiste de La Salle by drawing across the entrances to their chapels all over the world a veil with a representation of the little Romanesque church of the Chartreuse of Parménie: a favourite place of Saint Jean-Baptiste who would come here to pray and be revitalised; it was here that in 1714 a nun persuaded him to return to lead his brothers once more.
So where is our Parménie? Which is our place of contemplation, adoration, or complaining … our time for a one-to-one with the Lord ?
Fr Pedro Arrupe would ask his Jesuit brothers not to be activists “first”, but to be seekers “in love with God”:
There is nothing simpler than finding God:
it is the same as “falling in love”,
in an absolute, final way.
If you are in love,
whatever captures your imagination
will from now on affect everything.
It will be
what gets you out of bed in the morning,
it will decide what you do in the evening,
how you spend your weekend,
what you read,
what you know,
what will break your heart,
or amaze you,
filling you with joy and gratitude.
Let yourself “fall in love”,
remain in love,
and love will decide everything.
- “Visibly interacting with this world”:
So what path are we on? Is it the path that follows Him?
What dust is clinging to our feet? Is it the dust gathered as we walk far and patiently towards our brothers and sisters?
On the road to Emmaus, the disciples’ hearts were “burning within them”: the Lord himself joined them, walked with them, re-read them the Scriptures and shared bread with them. All disciples, by virtue of their calling, are open to the Word and its unexpected consequences. Our meeting with the risen Lord cannot be planned: it erupts into our lives. This can never be experienced second-hand. It has to be a personal encounter, offered to all. Each of us is both the addressee and interlocutor. A partner. Then will our eyes be opened.
Social media have got us used to instant reactions, to making our likes or dislikes public by clicking an emoticon. But religious life prefers conversation over reaction or petition. It invites us to sit together, listen, dialogue. It is called to tell the world that all our lives are a road to Emmaus, where we are both joined and called by God.
« Faites tout ce qu’Il vous dira » : Relire, c’est-à-dire ?
- “Do everything he tells you”:
What do we mean by Re-examination?
Let us open the book we have been writing over these last six years.
With courage and clarity, let us review what we have achieved, where we have been successful, where we have failed, where our efforts has been insufficient. Also the tasks we have side-stepped or refused to do; let us re-examine those instances where we have slackened off or even abandoned tasks.
Let us broaden our field of vision: looking to the far horizon, like the Father awaiting his prodigal younger son or pleading with his older son; let us open our hearts wide to receive the Spirit who will show us that every time we allow ourselves to become paralysed, blind, deaf or dumb, we are holding back from this relationship of true love which marks out the disciples of Christ.
The path we are following has come from a very distant and much higher place, and continues well beyond our imagination or dreams; let us open our hearts wider to receive the Spirit who teaches us to tell the wheat from the chaff and shows us who and where we must be.
Perhaps sometimes we think we are too few? Indeed, just six years ago there were 50 more of us! But this arithmetical logic does not take into account that each vocation is unique and is not just there to make up numbers.
Perhaps we find our society, our world disconcerting and depressing? Yet we stand by our world! What interest do we take in it, what love do we show for it? It is not true that all are guilty except us, and that the world is in crisis and heading to its doom: God is always at work and still recruiting.
The calls we hear to integral ecology and to true interculturalism are pressing: they are both “signs of the times” for today. The marriage of God and humanity is achieved through them, through this universal fraternity which we are asked to weave every day, refusing ever to lose hope. Cana is here before us!
Let us return to joy: removing for a while our heavy sandals to rediscover the sacred soil of our foundations, our charism!
Let us re-examine its ample riches, its great capacity for resilience despite being led astray down several dead ends over the years.
The fact that the Congregation is weaker or runs into difficulties does not mean it has lost its way or that God is no longer credible or short of wonders!
Let us review with joy and gratitude the path we have travelled.
See what we have become, individually and together, since becoming Sisters of Our Lady; since the last Chapter, what has brought growth and new life to the Congregation?
“A good chapter, like all good decisions, is born of gratitude (…) Our charism is grace, and therefore grows. The Chapter specifically allows the Charism to grow and develop. For each of us too, it is an opportunity for personal growth”.
As we re-examine our lives, therefore, let us not forget:
- “‘Jesus took with him’: this phrase appears several times in the Gospels, reminding us that ours is a collaborative mission. Sometimes we tend naturally to switch the order of things: we put in place projects and strategies and then ask Christ to accompany us in our work, as if the salvation of the world depended on us, and we simply took Christ with us to guarantee the success of our work. But if we read the Gospels again, we rediscover this double reality: that it is Christ who saves the world, and who takes us with Him.”
- Let us never forget who we are: “Sisters of Our Lady”, sisters of Mary, a woman present, silent, constant, even when “there is nothing left, only love”. A woman present, proving wrong all those people, male and female, who mistakenly try to depict her in their own image for their own profit. A woman present who calls us to be similarly present: to God, to the world, to our brothers and sisters, to ourselves.
A Chapter meeting is not simply a matter of planning or strategy, whether at a collective or individual level. It is a matter which concerns the whole body of the Congregation, and therefore, we are each called as “whole beings”.
Furthermore, the Chapter requires us to develop our inner freedom, especially during this period of preparation.
Being free to open up to our neighbour and enter into dialogue with her; being free to walk along the path that nobody knows; being free to accept the unexpected, and not to stay “on deck” or “behind” but to agree to dive in: such freedom only the inner Master can give us, thus freeing us from the judgment of others, as of our own judgment.
The unity of our body can only come from our giving of ourselves, a gift to be made again and again every day, as we well know. By renouncing our own self-interest, by resisting the urge to close in on ourselves or the desire to flee, by rejecting all motives, we are on the road to conversion.
This is also Pope Francis’ call to all communities of the world, “to offer a radiant and attractive witness of fraternal communion. Let everyone admire how you care for one another, and how you encourage and accompany one another “.
Let us be ready to live this Chapter as a grace freely given to us. Let us not be afraid to answer its call!
With all my fraternal love,
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Sr Cécile MARION, cnd-csa
Fontenay-sous-Bois, on this 1st Sunday of Advent, 1st December 2019