2017 CHRISTMAS LETTER

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

cnd-csa
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

Christmas letter for 2016

To the Sisters and the extended family of the Congregation of Our Lady

In the spirit of the Chapter, let us inhabit our time

Sr Cécile MARION

cnd-csa
Superior General

“We live in the best of times. This is God’s time for us”. These opening lines of Carmen Sammut’s article on consecrated life in the UISG magazine express a beautiful hope : we have no other time in which to make up our minds, in which to act, and welcome God who never fails his people. He comes in this time, the only good time for us : “before” now, it was other people’s concern; “after”, others again will deal with it. Now is the time !
And yet, it is very difficult to cover one’s eyes and ears: the conflict in the Middle East and the resultant sequence of disasters fill our television screens. Thousands migrating, an awakening of nationalism, world leaders meeting but making no progress because they share no single ideal of the common good; in other parts of the world individuals remain in power through force or manipulation; everywhere, money controls everything, including us...
Now has to be the time to cry out, with blind Bartimaeus of Jericho: “Rabbuni, let us see again!” (Mk 10, 51). Not simply to bandage up all this suffering and return to the peace and quiet of our ideal. But because He alone can teach us to live in the real world with all our frailties and contradictions, He alone tells us that the real world is a world of possibilities. Then our eyes may see abundance once again. Now is the time !

We have come to the end of the Year of Consecrated Life and the first day of the Jubilee of Mercy. A good time to narrow the divide created by our contradictions. At the 16th General Assembly of the Union of European Conferences of Superiors Major which took place last March in Albania, Fr Marko Ivan Rupnik (SJ) spoke about the future of apostolic religious life. According to him, this life faces two specific threats:
- activism, commitment to serving an ideal with considerable research into new methodologies and psycho-socio-cultural initiatives which tend to turn into a kind of secularised spirituality… But the desired effect is never achieved – the world does not change, vocations do not increase – for life is not there to be conquered by our commitment.
- devotion without real theology, a kind of sentimentalist and individualistic intimism.
The only way to overcome these threats is to rediscover apostolic religious life as testimony to a relationship, to a communion. “We are the work of his hands” (Ep 2, 10), not of our commitment to serving an ideal.
We are here to testify to a loving relationship, to a new, transfigured, creative, beautiful life; to a life of “wisdom”, flavoursome and full of taste, like herbs and spices. “The appeal of apostolic religious life becomes apparent when it presents itself as a calling nourished by this relationship/communion and joined inextricably to Christ… when it teaches us how to remain in Christ.”

This new Jubilee is given to us as the Gospel parable of the fig tree: “For three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and finding none. Cut it down! Why should it be taking up the ground?” “Sir”, replied the man who looked after the vineyard, “leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.” (Lk 13, 7-9)
A year to bear fruit! A year for our Lord the gardener to work on us !
French theologian Véronique Margron describes thus the vocation of the Christian : “It is a passion for talking with God and neighbour, an insomnia for the salvation of the world. Let us become even the smallest signs by our love of this time. No matter that we may not be understood ! We are not called to be ‘sacraments of perfection’ but signs that we have been saved.”

To each and every one of you, a joyful and happy Christmas:
“Let us put down our daily work, even if night has fallen, and, just as we are, let us go to welcome the Good News. At the manger, we will let the child-God look on us with the eyes of eternal love. We will let the gaze of our vulnerable God touch us. Let us be like lovers, worshipping the one who loves us with an immeasurable love. ‘Come, let us adore Him.’
As we approach the manger, we realise that it is a parable of our lives and of life around us today. We live in a world that often smells like a manger, smells of war, kidnappings or human trafficking, of ethnic hatred, religious intolerance, life-threatening diseases, of unwanted migrants, of greed… And clearly the difficulties and struggles we see on the outside are also present, to a certain degree and in a more subtle way, within our own communities and within ourselves. The Saviour our earth needs is the same Saviour we pray to for ourselves. May we allow ourselves to be touched by the light. ‘Come, let us adore Him.’
If we remain by the manger, we will soon see that it is a special place of welcome and encounter. To welcome smallness and fragility which, far from being rejected, are protected, loved, wrapped in tenderness. What an invitation for us, brothers and sisters, to welcome the smallness, the fragility within ourselves, within our communities, and on the margins of society ! The manger is a meeting place where we learn to listen, to marvel… Meeting people who have come from near and far, people of a different culture, with different religious convictions or moral standards. The manger questions our narrowness, our barriers, and calls us to be open to all ! ‘Come, let us adore Him.’ Our adoration will enable us to express our joy while continuing to give our lives for others.” (Carmen Sammut)
To one and all, a happy and beautiful Jubilee : let us be the joy of our merciful God. Now is the time !

With my affection

A History of the Congregation of Our Lady

Late 16th Century

The universe is expanding, our view of the world is changing, and the human race now has a different view of itself The Council of Trent has just been concluded. An important new movement of spiritual renewal is sweeping through the Church. This is the “century of saints”: Ignatius of Loyola, Thérèse of Avila, John of the Cross, Vincent de Paul, Bérulle, Francis de Sales...

The end of the 16th century was a difficult time for the Duchy of Lorraine, at that time independent of France, with corruption of morals, social injustice, extreme poverty, endless wars, famine, epidemics, wars of religion, ignorance and moral deprivation among clergy and religious, abandonment of people... In 1597, at Christmas Midnight Mass celebrated by Peter Fourier in the church at Mattaincourt, Alix, then aged 21, consecrated her life to God, together with four companions. Thus was born the Congregation.

At the end of the 16th century education for girls was practically inexistent. Conscious of this urgent need, Peter Fourier and Alix Le Clerc decided to offer free education to young girls from rich and poor families. A revolutionary idea at that time! Their objective: a real promotion of women, in order to transform society. 1598: the first free school for girls opened in Poussay. At the same time, Peter Fourier was writing a Constitution for the new Congregation. In 1616 he obtained approval from Rome. In 1628 the Sisters of the Congregation of Our Lady adopted the name of Canonesses of St Augustine, to obtain recognition of their apostolic life.

Less than a century later

They have 80 houses, in Lorraine, throughout France and in several neighbouring countries! Attached to each school was a monastery. The Sisters came there to live in community, following the strict rules which then governed all women’s convents. Each monastery was autonomous, but they all lived in one great union, supporting each other in need, offering true mutual aid.

The turmoil of history

Despite many trials: war, persecution, repeated dispersal… the Sisters sought refude in other countries where they could pursue their mission in education.

Early 20th century

Some monasteries moved into federations, others created Unions. In 1963, the houses of the two large Unions became one, today’s Congregation of Our Lady.

Post-Vatican II

In response to the Council’s call to greater openness to the world, the Congregation sought new answers, relevant to their localities and to the needs of the people around them. Smaller communities began to grow everywhere, and religious life took on a new form.

The present

Remaining true to the ideas which originally inspired them, the Sisters of the Congregation of Our Lady seek to respond to the needs of their times. Their care is given primarily to the poor, the oppressed, the neglected. Everywhere they go, the Sisters work for the development and growth of the individual, through education and training, on all levels, and according to the country. How do they achieve this?
- by providing a general education
- instruction in the faith
- education about justice
- and engaging with the poor.

Sent by the Congregation, they live in small groups in "fraternity":
- sharing life on a daily basis
- with an individual and a group mission
- with prayer in private and in community.

The unity of the Sisters, reflection and choice of projects is determined:
- in each country, by a team of Sisters elected to this role,
- at international level, by a group elected by the General Chapter, for 6 years’ service to the entire Congregation.
All Sisters are responsible for the unity of the Congregation and the paths it follows, be that within their daily fraternal communities, on a national or international scale. As far as possible, all Sisters participate together in the decision-making process.

About logo




How we see the CND today

• CND is fragile; it thirsts for communication and communion
• How are we to put into practice the mission of the oats in this huge ocean, in a suffering world?
Education is faced with many difficulties and challenges…


Our inherited VALUES

The spirituality of the Incarnation invites us to take a positive view, a loving view of Jesus and the world.
A taste for life: Jesus invites us at the Wedding Feast of Cana (in John’s gospel, Ch 2); he invites us to taste the wine, to enjoy its great abundance: as Pierre Fourier said Jesus teaches us “to live and live well".
Augustinian charity and freedom : « Love and do what you will ».


Our VISION for the FUTURE: WHAT DO WE WANT?

Two hands : to take care of creation, of our relationship, of Peace; to remain modest and not to be tempted to act beyond our means.
• The hands around the globe represent an attitude in favour of life. The image of the earth in God’s hands helps us to see that this world belongs God; it also belongs to all of us.
To educate is to change the world. One hand above: God's blessing since the very beginning; the hand below: an invitation to people to help build the world by living with all in harmony.


The MEANS to achieve our vision of the future

• The prospect of peace : all 5 continents are united, this implies universality facilitated by the means of communication currently available…
• Our diversity of colours is a rich treasure…so let us listen carefully and respect this diversity. More questions are to be asked, more understanding is required of the commitment made by our sisters.
• Solidarity with all. This might begin by sitting together to listen to each other.
• The diversity of colours reminds us of the diversity of cultures we must assimilate, day after day, with our sisters in community life and with the people of the world...
Borders are beginning to open and could open further...


THE COMPLETE LOGO

The wide-armed Cross protects and supports daily life on our planet.
• The Cross at the center of the logo, the vertical arm: the Creator, The Trinity, prayer; horizontal arm: sister, brother, the world; these dimensions must intersect.
• The Cross at the centre tells us that the world will only be renewed when Christ becomes a reference point for all.
• The blue Cross at the centre shows us that all sisters turn to Christ, source of all our choices, thoughts and decisions. When we have difficulties to face, it is the Cross which becomes "the answer to all our questions".

Enjoying the word of God with young people

Chahina Baret

Deputy Leader of Pastoral Team at the Saint Pierre de Brunoy Institute and Formation Leader.

We have a tendency in catechesis to choose texts which fit with our themes or special moments, we try to get the Scripture texts to say something specific, expecting a positive reaction. In these cases we are merely using the word of God as a tool, we sometimes even draw from it a lesson in morality with truths to believe.

The Texte national pour l’orientation de la catéchèse en France [National Guide to Catechesis in France] reminds us that the role of the catechist is to let the word of God do its work in other people. We are therefore responsible for whatever might happen between the word of God and people. We are responsible for putting people to work, building a path, providing a setting within which they can read and pray this word, but we do not control their progress on their inner journey, nor do we control the work of the Spirit within them, or how this word resonates within their personal contexts. It is therefore not a question of studying biblical texts but of creating conditions in which young people may experience the word of God in their lives. We are at the service of whatever might take place between the word of God and these persons.

A Scripture text becomes the Word when it finds a person in their times of need, when they face difficulties, questions and problems in finding their life’s direction. We believe in a God who wants to enter into conversation and a relationship with each one of us: he reveals himself as he is with us, for us, he shows his face and waits for us to respond of our own free will.

So what can help a young person open their ears to God, who speaks personally to them, through Scripture, in their here and now ?

We think it is important to help young people get to know the Scriptures better, to give them the book itself and not just some photocopied pages. We show them how to find their way around the Bible and find a particular text to read, and thus to discover the great library that is the Bible.

The Word of God is the source for all times of catechesis, so we learn to pray and listen to the Word :
• We learn to rest, relax, find a good position.
• We learn to enter into ourselves, listen to ourselves, listen to outside noises.
• We learn to breathe.
• We learn to keep silence.
• This is to be done slowly and at each person’s pace: for some, it will take only two minutes, for others five.
• We light a candle, we guide the young people with a word and a ritual to enter into the moment: a sign of the cross, a hymn, a dialogue as in the spiritual exercises :
◊ We come before you, O Lord ….
◊ Open my heart to Your Word ….


• We lead the young people in a text chosen from Scripture to suit their age. To this end we find a way into the text that sparks their interest in the story: reading it solemnly, retelling it as a story, playing out the story... (there are many guides and courses available to help with this).
• - After the text has been proclaimed, we can imagine the scene, the main characters, the setting, we can imagine ourselves there in the place of the characters, describe how they are feeling, what they might be thinking...
Again, depending on their age, we can take the young people through this in spoken or written form. They sit anywhere in the room, we avoid praying seated in rows; those who have difficulty with this are led to another room where they can pray in a group with the help of a leader .

• We then ask them to relate the story just recounted to their personal lives, by asking open questions to help trace a path in each of them towards a possible meeting with God, towards allowing themselves to be called and questioned, to become a sounding board through their life experiences, in what they say and do in the world: a revelation, a question and perhaps a refusal; we must leave them the time to explore the biblical text and find their own way round it.
• We then have a time for sharing, when anyone who would like to can talk about :
◊ What is good in this text and that they wish to keep,
◊ What they have difficulty with, what they do not accept,
◊ What they find surprising, unexpected….

I always tell young people that their response is just for today, nothing is ever definite or finite. As Christians, as sons, as disciples, we never reach a finished state. We are constantly growing in this relationship and dialogue throughout our lives. We tell them not to hesitate to copy each other. As part of a group, we can lean on each other, allow ourselves to be moved or surprised by what others see that we have never noticed ourselves, allow ourselves to be fed and to reap what is good.
Living in this way creates a communion, where we give of ourselves and receive. To train young people to enter into the Scriptures, we use methods taught by the Tradition and which we try out on our young people. They enter ever more deeply into the silence inhabited by prayer:

• Contemplative dialogue.
• Praying with a work of art, listening to what it has to tell us and getting past the initial “I like it” “I don’t like it”
• Here too we are guiding them in contemplation without explaining the work of art.

In this way, the Word of God is at the centre as a source and not a tool with which to illustrate a time of discussion. Today it is truly a Word in action, a fruitful Word that fulfils its promise; as leaders, we must be guided by the fact that God wants to live in and talk to each person as a friend, that he seeks them out and makes the first move to talk to them and ask them to respond freely. He tells us what he wants for us, what he is for us. Our job is to create the right conditions for the Spirit to work in us, by providing a demanding but organised setting, restarting the discussion with a well-timed question, explanation or brief contribution, but mainly by enabling the young people to develop their inner ability to listen, and with them remaining open to listening to the face of God as He reveals Himself to us.

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