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Sister Eileen’s Opening Talk

When I celebrated my golden jubilee in 2011. I recall making the   comment that the most constant  companion in my life   has been change

A year after entering religious life the novitiate building was sold. We were moved to another building which was  temporary while  a much larger novitiate was built to accommodate the many who did for a short time enter the community

I did my college classes in the attic of the “old house” as we called it

Was professed in an unfinished chapel and sent with three others one thousand miles away to begin a new foundation where I was put into an eighth grade classroom not having the faintest idea of how to teach

Shortly after we arrived my novice mistress came  to visit.  She gave me a piece of advice that I always remembered “you are in a new place. You will make your own traditions.” 

By then I should have realized that whatever was defined as “normal” religious life was not going to be my experience

That simple statement of hers opened the world for me – not just the world of religious life but the world of society and the church and freed me to be open to the possibilities and potential that are often embedded in change even change which would not appear to be life giving.

My guess is that we can all identify with what often are huge gaps between our expectations of  life – religious life, life in general and the reality we have experienced.

What we often fail to do is give ourselves credit for how we have allowed change to mold us and shape us into the persons we are today.

It hasn’t always been easy.

Over and over we are called to renew our understanding and living of consecrated religious life.

Daily we are called to see the world in which we live with “prophetic eyes”

Sister Mercedes Casas says “the adjective prophetic brings to mind some kind of attitude: a life that pierces through questions, a perspective that penetrates reality, unsettles, transmits hope, anticipates, sees further ahead.” [1]

The articles that were sent to you named and described some models that could form the framework of new forms of religious life .

Whatever they are called they are all attempts to describe a transformation that could hopefully lead to  renewed, revitalized expressions of consecrated life.

In the article by Ted Dunne on Refounding Religious Life  he says,

“Deep change rattles the windows through which we gaze upon our world. Our worldview, the fundamental ways in which we understand our life, our world and our God, must come into question …”[2]

Here we are again on the threshold of God only knows what kind of change is on the horizon.

This is a new moment. But it does not stand in isolation of all that has gone before.

As Dune also says “while deep change transcends the past it is also rooted in the past but in a radical new way”[3]

The type of change he seems to be suggesting in not going to be found merely by revisiting the historical roots of our founding. It is found “ in appreciating our charism as a reflection of our collective inner voice and not merely the voice of our founders”

What is our collective inner voice (charism) saying to our world today that is both authentic and manifests integrity as evidenced by our actions?

We  come from different parts of the world. There does not seem to be any country that is not experiencing a breakdown of structures, a loss of confidence in any type of leadership, political , moral and religious disintegration. Whether it be government , church or society in general there is a sense of loss of  direction. 

Our people and we ourselves are like the Israelites crying to God:

We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you. (Dn.3)

Throughout the history of the church the prophetic voice of religious life has been a light, a way forward.

We do want and need  Elizabeth Prout to accompany us in this time of uncertainty and transformation. She was no stranger to uncertainty, to forging a way through unknown territory

The “collective inner voice” found expression in the type of religious life practiced by Elizaabeth Prout and her followers.

In a society and church where poor working class women were relegated to roles as maids, cooks, lay sisters, Elizabeth saw beneath and beyond the societal expectations to the potential.

She invited women to a full experience of vowed, community life with no  class distinction.

Her compassionate heart was drawn to the educational needs of poor  factory children and that is where she chose to place her energy and that of her community.

Lived expression of CP charism by the early community was reflected in their life together and in the ministries which at that time cried out for the mercy and compassion of Christ. That is  the heart of CP charism-our collective inner voice.

What is our collective inner voice (charism) saying to our world today that is both authentic and manifests integrity as evidenced by our actions?

This is the fundamental question.

Elizabeth Prout and our history will not hold us back from answering that question.

“Consecrated Life will only have a future if it proves able to engage prophetically in the critical conditions of contemporary life.”[4](Arnaiz,JoseMaria)

The realties of today are vastly different from Manchester in the 19th century.

We are not being asked to ignore the concrete realities of today.

But we cannot allow the realities to paralyze us.

Where would we be if Elizabeth Prout had allowed reality to paralyze her?

She trusted the inner,prophetic voice that enabled her to  venture out beyond the facts and realities facing her

She,above all, understood the call of God given to Abraham and to founders and foundresses and their followers throughout salvation history

“Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.”(Gn 13:1)

She and the prophetic sisters who have gone before us stand with us now in this moment of newness.

We are not being asked to bury the past in a cloud of nostalgia.

We acknowledge reality both past and present for what it is.

We hold the realities gently  but also allow ample space in  our thinking and dreaming for a new vision.

A good companion for us in this moment is Peter.  Peter is in the boat that he knows how to navigate with the men he always goes fishing with. In the mist he sees a figure coming toward him doing something most extraordinary- walking on top of the water. He want to believe it is Jesus and he challenges himself to do the unthinkable.  “Jesus if it really is you, tell me to come. He starts out of the bot enveloped in the belief that he can do this because Jesus will be there to catch him. But some doubt- fear of the unknown creep into his resolve . he takes his eyes off Jesus. He reverts to what he knows is fact. You can’t walk on water. You will sink!  Jesus’ lament “Why did you doubt. You of little faith.

Jesus is really there- waiting – helping him and us do the unthinkable.

It is not just one of us who is being drawn to the person of Jesus. He is beckoning all of us, together,  to  step out of this boat that is the reality of the congregation . he is inviting us to an unfolding vision of how he wants us to incarnate him.

We are creatures of habit. There is a certain security in having a plan, an agenda, something to hold onto

The great challenge for each one of us is going to be to leave our preconceptions of one another, our agenda for this time, our experience of what has and hasn’t worked, the ways we have always done it – to mentally and spiritually leave them aside.

Jesus’ vision will not  become our vision if our hearts and minds are overcrowded with our own agendas

When CLT were planning the gathering we realized that if we believe we are being called to look at our life with new eyes and new energy the place to begin had to be with the way we spend these days.

So we begin with an open, empty slate - no pre planned  topics, just the time and number of sessions and that too may change.

It is a step out of the boat of how we always do meetings. We don’t know what will come of this.

But we  have placed our trust in the Holy Spirit and one another with confidence that what needs to emerge will.

This is a significant step in our walking together into the future. This is historical!

This  is a time to dream our future into existence.

You may be wondering why you were invited and I can only say ask the Holy Spirit!

You are not just here for yourself. You are the link with the sisters in your own area and in the entire congregation. This gathering belongs to all of us.

We come together as sisters sharing our precious charism. Hopefully we will leave as sisters who have come to know one another at a deeper, more personal level.

The transformation we seek as a community  happens one relationship at a time. In this room is a cross section of the congregation.

How we relate to one another will have a ripple effect.

The Sisters of the Cross and Passion are one community and that oneness which is experienced at the heart level is a key component in renewing- re-energizing- refounding ourselves.

If at the end of these four days you can look at each sister in this room and feel in your heart that you know her just a little better, something great will have been accomplished.

On that foundation of trust, patience, openness, forgiveness, acceptance we will be empowered to  do the hard work of re-founding and walk together into a new, transformed future.

Conclude with prayer for the intercession of Elizabeth Prout

[1] Which are the Prophetically Significant Challenges That We Face As Religious Life in Latin American World?

[2] Refounding Religious Life

[3] Refounding Religious Life

[4]  Jose Maria Arnaiz

One Comment

  1. Kenneth Brady CP says:

    Congratulations on your imaginative gathering