Voices of newer religious

Voices of newer religious

Brother Francis Nguyen, S.D.B. addresses young people.

Dozens of newer members of religious orders attended the NRVC convocation and submitted essays with their thoughts on convocation themes. We bring you excerpts from a sampling of these submissions. The writers were asked to reflect, from a perspective of hope, on their experiences of communal life, intercultural consecrated life, or demographic change in religious life.

Communal life enhanced by listening

One of the overarching themes of the NRVC 2020 convocation was the importance of storytelling. Sharing our stories helps us to feel known, and listening to others’ stories increases our compassion. In community life, the more we share and learn about one another, the more we’ll be able to see each other beyond generalizations, as unique individuals with burdens to carry and gifts to share. But telling our stories is not always easy. Sharing a part of ourselves is a risk, one that requires both humility and openness, and our community life is richer when we foster an environment that supports this kind of connection.

One of the greatest gifts we can give to our sisters in community is the reassurance that their stories will be received with the same humility and openness with which they are shared. I witness and experience this giving and receiving all the time—in hallways and around the table, during times of shared prayer and times of recreation. Every time, I am reminded of our God who favors nuances over broad strokes, particularity over generality, our God who cares to know us and who loves us still. And as long as we love with humility and openness, we will have reason to hope. —Sister Allison Masserano, A.S.C.J.

God is breathing new life into us

I entered religious life in what I’m constantly being told is a time of diminishment, and yet all I see is hope and effort. The first few months I lived in community, I attended four funerals and made plans for my own! Yet, it is in this very space and time that I have been called to be a Sister of Mercy. I am learning what it means from women who have been living vowed religious life for much longer than I’ve been alive. I am gifted with their insights about what did not work and what did.

Does our community look different these days? Yes. And it also looks different from the first days of our community in Dublin, Ireland. God is calling us to something exciting! Do we know what it looks like? Nope. And yet here we are, day after day seeking to bring the Kingdom of God to all of God’s precious children. It is from these supposed “dry bones” [of consecrated life] that vowed religious walked this year lifting up the reminder that black lives not only matter but are sacred. It is from these supposed dry bones that vowed religious sit with people in their grief, write letters, and make phone calls to share God’s holy presence. It is from these supposed dry bones that vowed religious across congregations unite in prayer … and demonstrate for the lives of all on the margins. It is from these supposed dry bones that God is breathing new life into new realities and new ways of living and serving. —Sister Kelly Williams, R.S.M.

Intercultural life source of hope, solidarity

Living in an intercultural community was one thing that led me to join the Society of the Divine Word in 2012. Interculturality has been a foundation of my religious vocation and my path for living the vows. It is a unique source of hope, not only in a religious community but also in our broader society. Intercultural religious communities have a relevant role in the wider church. Every challenging aspect of interculturality is a path toward a rewarding life that brings hope to many. Interculturality is not about one’s individual identity, and it goes beyond personal concerns, issues, difficulties, and problems in community living. Father Antonio Pernia, S.V.D., the former Superior General of my Society, has encouraged our communities to live out an interculturality that entails solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. Interculturality reminds us to be a brother and sister to all cultures. It is not about the dominance of one culture over another, and it is only possible when there are interactions among the different cultures in the community, with each member living naturally and freely in order to contribute to a certain stability in the community. Each religious who has experienced interculturality is called to be a witness, a prophet, and an example of hope, especially to those affected by violence, racial discrimination, poverty, injustice, inequality, isolation, lack of education, natural calamities, and the pandemic. —Brother Marlon Bobier Vargas, S.V.D.

Authenticity at the heart of community

What resonates with me about fostering a healthy community is that it be based on the courage to be authentic. Having the courage to be authentic in a community is respecting yourself and others. Practicing respect helps us to be who we are and not who we desire to portray. When we are authentic, other members in community will offer respect in return. Another way to be authentic is through communication. When we speak, it is important that we mean what we say and say what we mean. Besides authenticity, healthy community is also about having compassion for others and being honest and charitable. How we live our lives together writes a narrative for the world that the example Jesus gave, when practiced well, invites all his followers to live in union and charity. —Sister Christi Sanchez, C.C.V.I.

Intergenerational life a blessing

Prior to entering religious life, I would have never considered an intergenerational lifestyle. Our world often discounts the value and depth of experience of our elders. We see them primarily as those who can no longer do. I have learned since entering my community that nothing could be further from the truth. Many of my elder sisters have more energy and enthusiasm than I do for the ministries in which they engage. I have loved sitting with my sisters and hearing their stories of being out on mission. They tell me what it was like teaching, ministering to those in the inner city, accompanying many through legal issues, and working for justice before justice was a buzzword.

These sisters have devoted most of their lives to the embodiment of the charism that I am learning to live out. I am profoundly grateful to have them for role models. I want my own life as a religious to mirror their gentleness, kindness, and patience. One of the greatest gifts I have been given through my interaction with them is a wider perspective on issues that are important to living out the gospel message.

I have also learned a great deal from them about my prayer life. They, especially the sister with whom I now live, have modeled for me what it means to be disciplined in prayer. Often they are up before me, sitting in quiet contemplation or praying a rosary or other devotional. They have stressed to me time and again how important a healthy, fervent prayer life is for religious life. My elder sisters have also helped me deepen my understanding of our unique spirituality as Sisters of Divine Providence.

I am confident that my elder sisters would tell you that the presence of younger sisters has also enhanced their lives. Many times they tell me they marvel at our energy and enthusiasm and that this energizes them. They also recognize that we bring a unique perspective with us from our experiences prior to entering the congregation. The living of intergenerational life in my religious community has been and continues to be a great blessing in my life! —Sister Megan Grewing, C.D.P.

Differences add richness to life together

I belong to a big community that stretches out across the globe and across cultures, the Augustinians of the Assumption. It is a community that spans several generations of dedicated religious at the service of God and the church. Together with my brothers, we are passionate for the coming of God’s Kingdom in us and around us.

Our humble community is built daily and there are days when it is not easy doing so. Yet, our differences in age, culture, and even personalities add richness to our common passion for the Kingdom. I can’t help but think of good Father Richard in my community, someone who challenged me to think about how I could best live out our passion for the Kingdom.

As brothers we are encouraged to seek creative ways to serve. Some of us are campus ministers, educators, and even journalists. I’ve always liked to draw and paint, and I’ve been encouraged to use my artistic talents in ministry. I have been using my gifts to help others pray, educate, and journey with people along the path of truth, goodness, and beauty.

God called me to this community, and I have found my place in it. —Brother Blair Paulus Nuyda, A.A.

Making space for each other in community

A tangible, practical way I live out my vocation is through my life in community. I see a countercultural, radical life being lived out most concretely in our morning prayer, at the dinner table, and in conversations about how often to change the kitchen towels. These everyday moments are the essence of a God-centered life for me because it is where the rubber hits the road. The way I live in community reflects how I live religious life in all other areas of my life, including my ministry. For me, religious life begins at our dinner table and in our prayer space, bringing all that we are to one another.

This is not to say that a commitment to community is easy or straightforward. Living with others who have a wide range of preferences, wounds, and upbringings requires patience, curiosity, and the choice to love when it is difficult to love. Community is an every day, every moment commitment to making space for others and a choice to be inconvenienced by allowing others into my life and discernment. As a woman who has lived a very independent life, this is hard work. I have experienced growing pains in learning to allow others to help me, support me, and hold the difficulties and disappointments of life. I thought that the goal of my life was to be successful and have a life of convenience. However, through community I realized that my real desire is to learn how to love with abandon. My work is to listen, to be present, and to make space for every person, no matter our differences. It is saying yes to the mystery of transformation through everyday moments.

Religious life is indeed where I can most fully live into my inheritance of love. I once had grand notions that living a radical life required me to step out of my home and go “out there”. The gift that religious life taught me is that my call to a radical life begins at 7:15 a.m. by choosing to get out of bed and pray with my sisters. It is in my choosing to do the dishes and my willingness to have a long conversation about our values around changing the kitchen towels. As we choose to make space in our hearts and lives for one another, we are choosing to love, and therefore, more fully enter into the inheritance of God’s love that we all share. However, this is not just for me and my community, but simply the birthplace of belonging. As we nurture love and belonging with one another, we cannot help but share it with a world whose people are struggling to find their way back to one another. —Sister Sarah Simmons, C.S.J.

Balance encouragement and challenge

Three things constitute a healthy community: openness and awareness, dialogue, and a healthy balance of encouragement and challenge. A healthy community is open and aware of what makes each member a blessing (gifts) and what each member struggles with (areas for growth). The community understands and reconciles different ways of doing community tasks and invites new ways of doing things. During my novitiate, I lived with sisters from other countries who brought new ways of praying and new foods to try; they expanded my view of the world. By being open and aware, I was able to grow.

It is also essential that members of a community treat each other as adults regardless of formation status. There were times I felt dismissed. I found it hard if things went to my mentor or leadership without the direct community first addressing the concern. This was difficult at times, but eventually, I was able to see these struggles as a blessing in order to learn that healthy communication in the community fosters dialogue and listening.

Another aspect of healthy community is living out a balance of encouragement and challenge for each member. Sometimes I found that the focus of formation was on areas of growth rather than gifts. Some sisters gently challenged me while also acknowledging my worth in the community. This helped me experience a balanced dose of constructive feedback.

Despite the challenges, I see and experience healthy communities that support each member and work together to live out the mission. These give me hope that God is calling women and men to religious life and we have communities to welcome them. —Sister Sarah Cieplinski, S.N.D.deN.

Willingness to be vulnerable matters

I have lived in several communities where I was the lone Latina sister. I believe that a willingness to communicate and share about ourselves is necessary for a life-giving community. As an introvert, I found it difficult at first, but now feel more at ease in conversing with my community members. My community members and I have shared about our family upbringings and cultural traditions. These conversations have helped us to understand the reasons behind our behaviors and beliefs.

I am hopeful my community members can live interculturally amid any challenges that may arise. I believe my congregation truly strives to value diversity and to see the goodness of each individual. Each of us strives to respect and empower our community members and the people we encounter in our ministries. We strive to bring all people to the oneness of God as stated in our constitution.

I am hopeful that each sister will continue to grow in her acceptance of the “other” and that each of us will truly listen to each other’s stories. Whatever challenges may emerge, my hope is that we will risk being vulnerable with one another. As our foundress, Mother Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger, stated, “All the works of God proceed slowly and in pain; but then, their roots are the sturdier and their flowering the lovelier.” —Sister Maria Gomez, S.S.N.D.


Published on: 2021-01-29

Edition: 2021 HORIZON No. 1 Winter

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