God has shouted, "Yes, yes, yes!"

God has shouted, "Yes, yes, yes!"

Creating communities of hope

GOD HAS SHOUTED, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ to every luminous movement,” —words of Hafiz, Persian poet and mystic.

Since September 11, 2001 religious communities have been offered an abundance of presentations on hope. Those who have reflected on hope include Cardinal Daneels of Belgium, Donald Georgen, OP and a recent edition of the publication for sisters under age 50, Giving Voice. The November 2004 Congress on Consecrated Life—attended by almost 900 women and men religious from across the world, including leaders, theologians, younger and newer members alike—pointedly engaged the suffering of humanity, yet still ended with references to hope.

Why are we so in need of—so in search of—hope right now? Is the hope we are looking for related to terrorism? to world peace? to our government? Is it related to the church? And what do we hear of hope outside this nation—in the midst of AIDS, human trafficking, increasing mortality under age 40 in sub-Saharan countries?

Why do we, as members of religious communities, search for hope now? I think that while many of us see the wars and destruction, the rampant materialism, poverty and violence, AIDS and disease, what we hear is the world’s cry and the cry of those in our cities and rural areas. We hear it as a cry for hope, a relentless search for a real hope that engages real lives. And there is something within us that measures our world and our work in light of the Gospel call to respond to that cry.

Is there a hope we as women and men religious can offer the world today? Yes. In the midst of our numbers and our disparate ministries, in spite of internal and external difficulties of our own, yes. There is a hope to offer—a hope that both permeates and transcends the current situations. There is a hope we can and must offer; indeed, offering hope is our heritage, our inheritance, our legacy. I suggest it is a requirement of the apostolic and monastic life.

What is this hope we religious, women and men of the Gospel, name, seek and offer? I’d like to put forth a description of hope and then consider characteristics which impact religious life and the church and world in which we live.

Hope is a virtue, and as such it fits under the greatest virtue, which is love. A virtue is a disposition and habit, which flows out of who we are and who we want to become, and it offers a vision of how to get there. Virtues are teleological; that is, there is a goal or end toward which they strive. In Christianity, the ultimate end is union with God, and we live out this desire on a daily basis through our love of God, neighbor and self. Throughout our lives we strive toward this telos or end, and as long as we live our task is not complete. Virtues, like our human nature, are also dynamic; therefore, as we continue to learn, grow and mature, so our level of understanding and depth of living the virtues evolve.

Hope gives us a particular, sustained moral and spiritual vision. In addition, it is the transcendent virtue that animates and informs the virtues which follow. Hope not only gives us the vision, it sanctions and sustains the vision. Christian hope tells us what type of vision we have. Hope is also a prime Christian resource of the imagination.1 Hope offers a horizon for our expectations in both tangible and non-tangible ways. Hope allows us to reshape our reality in a particular way. Hope imagines the real and animates the other virtues to enflesh the real that is imagined.

In addition to providing a horizon for our expectations, five other points underlie the virtue of Christian hope:

  1. hope is communal;
  2. it includes the dead as well as the living;
  3. hope is connected to help;
  4. it is linked to the paschal imagination; and
  5. hope has a fundamentally eschatological dimension.

The communal nature of hope is such that it not only imagines, but imagines with; it is inherently collaborative and promotes mutuality.2 Hope is an act of the community, whether the community is large or small, global or local. The community may consist of those with whom we live, minister, pray, and more. The communal nature of hope crosses congregations, life commitments, religious traditions and more. In the Visitation Mary and Elizabeth offered hope to one another and Mary’s Magnificat magnified the light of that manifold hope.

Years after I entered religious life, I learned that Dorothy Kazel, OSU, while in El Salvador, found hope from other religious, most notably Theresa Kane, RSM. Dorothy read Theresa’s 1980 presidential address to Leadership Conference of Women Religious in which Theresa spoke of religious life and ministry needing to be at the margins, including in the U.S. Less than two months before she was murdered, Dorothy wrote Theresa a letter of thanks, and concluded with the following remarks: “Within this past year I had been fortunate to meet women theologians like Barbara Doherty (CDP) and Sandra Schneiders (IHM). They—along with the little I’ve actually read about you—do give me the hope that the Reign of God is making headway. And for this I am grateful. Do continue to be Spirit-filled and challenging. Please keep the people of Salvador before the Lord, as we are literally living in a time of persecution. We need His strength.”3 I invite vocation ministers and all religious to consider what an impact your words and vision can offer—well beyond your expectations.

Theologian Johann Baptist Metz writes of solidaristic hope, a hope that includes those who have gone before us.4 We act out of a horizon of expectation that the sisters and others who have gone before us are not only part of our legacy but also part of our energy and drive in seeking to respond to God’s call to love and serve. Even as the call to respond and live may differ in detail, hope remembers all and leaves none behind. We are part of this communion of saints.

Help and imagination required

Hope is also connected to help. While hope is within us, hope is also the sense within us that there is help outside of us.5 Scholar William F. Lynch writes: “There are times when we are especially aware that our own purely inward resources are not enough, that they have to be added to from the outside. But this need of help is a permanent, abiding, continuing fact for each human being; therefore we can repeat that in severe difficulties we only become more especially aware of it.”6

An example of this need for hope and help can illuminate. One of the articles in our Giving Voice issue on internationality is from a woman religious who wrote of gratitude for the participation of nuns and sisters in protests in the U.S. in order to raise public concerns regarding human rights abuses in her South American country. She said that while a public act of protest could easily result in violence to her, our protesting is doing what she alone cannot.7 Hope is connected to help.

Fourth, hope is integrally connected to our paschal imagination. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is a message of hope that does not evade or deny suffering or dying. As religious we must be in the midst of the people in need, and those include the suffering, the marginalized, the afflicted. Yet the crucial and incarnated hope is that the end of the story is not death but new life that may take a variety of forms. Imaginative hope does not evade reality but sees and transforms it.

Everyone has a moral imagination through which we work out our vision of human flourishing.8 The Christian moral imagination refers to some of the resources our Christian faith experience and tradition offer us as we strive to live so that all humans flourish. This is the imagination we engage in the situations we come upon.9

In light of the pandemic of AIDS, global poverty, human trafficking and lack of sufficient health care in our nation, full human flourishing requires that we see beyond the surface of facts around us to possibilities that can be realized around us. To see women’s religious life with only 78,000 members in 2,000 instead of 180,000 in the U.S. in 1965 could be to say the writing is on the wall for the end of religious life in the United States.10 However, Christianity and the moral imagination flowing out of that lens offer a different horizon of expectations and, I contend, ensuing actions. The Christian imagination is rooted in the real but imagines more than what is seen because, as mentioned earlier, for Christians the horizon of expectations is rooted in hope. We have only this, our time in religious life today. This is our time, the time for which we are created, and reading the signs of the times offers us a sense of what the call around us is. At the same time, our hope in God and our sense of being called as religious means that this time and these numbers in the U.S. are calling us to imagine something with new eyes.

Theologian Philip Keane describes imagination as “the basic process by which we draw together the concrete and the universal elements of our human experience…a playful suspension of judgment leading us toward a more appropriate grasp of reality.”11 This “playful suspension” is not of reality but of judgment on the reality. Imagination here is not fantasy, which makes up or creates an image to avoid or escape reality. Imagination instead takes various experiences and realities and places them into a context, an “intelligible landscape.”12 Lynch sees imagination as remaking reality, and connects imagination quite directly with hope. Lynch reminds us.

One of the permanent meanings of imagination has been that it is the gift that envisions what cannot yet be seen, the gift that constantly proposes to itself that the boundaries of the possible are wider than they seem. Imagination, if it is in prison and has tried every exit, does not panic or move into apathy but sits down to try to envision another way out. It is always slow to admit that all the facts are in, that all the doors have been tried and that it is defeated. It is not so much that it has vision as that it is able to wait, to wait for a moment of vision which is not yet there, for a door that is not yet locked. It is not overcome by the absoluteness of the present moment.13

Poet and human rights activist Vaclav Havel describes this hope in a similar fashion:

The kind of hope I often think about … I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world…It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.

Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.14

Scripture and tradition give us a sense of the horizon of our expectations, and with the analogical imagination we are not held to “what would Jesus do” in a situation, but we are invited to live “what is Jesus doing now through me” as an incarnation.15 The imagination is helpful, for we are able to move analogically from Jesus’ story to discovering how to daily live toward a reality reflective of the Reign of God.16

Beyond the here and now

Finally, hope is centered on the eschatological nature of our lives as Christians. Our living includes doing all we can to promote the Reign of God in the world. At the same time, our faith tells us that ours is a “here-and-not-yet” reality and that this reign will not be completed in our lifetime. This is not a reason for inactivity, but it once again places our activity in a wider context. Christian hope here is time-attentive and responsible, but not time-bound. This allows us to work toward the Reign of God and yet rely on God in the midst of it all.17 Hope ultimately reaches out to all that is good, all that is God.18 This is the hope that allows us to risk boldly!

I particularly ask you to invite your wisdom figures, your members who have sought to live fully, to speak their word of hope. This is necessary for religious life and for the entire people of God. We have more religious life Elizabeths than ever before in the U.S.—their lives of love and reflection bear the fruit of wisdom which our world and church desperately need. And do invite your Marys to also speak—they too have a hope that burns within them.

Community and communion

With God as our ultimate hope and one another as companions on this journey of hope, what might be necessary for creating communities of hope in our 21st century? Well, the topic of community life is anything but non-controversial these days! And this is where we have seen some generational differences and nuances and some stretching realities in religious life today. I offer one observation and two suggestions.

Observation: I read with great interest the papers coming from the November 2004 Congress on Consecrated Life, “Passion for Christ, Passion for Humanity,” particularly the synthesis paper. In it there are references to communion and community, and the necessary connection between them. This is quite significant:

“We seek our place in the Church, the People of God, home and school of communion.” ( “Novo Millennio Ineunte,” 43).

The congress furthermore noted there is “the search for communion and community, based on deep and inclusive relationships; the progressive extension of community living to the parish, diocese, and city, to society and to humanity.”

Under the heading “Convictions for Deciding to go Forward” the congress declared: “It is necessary to develop the ecclesiology of communion and the theological foundations of relationships between religious and laypersons in order to intensify common formation, religious and lay; to favor a shared mission and bond with the local church; and to have flexible structures to share experiences among congregations” (13). We also hear that “consecrated life has to be an experience of communion. This implies a strong call to community life” (15).19

In brief, our call as religious men and women is a call to community, and as such it is a call to communion. If we live this, even strive to live this, the benefits will be local and global. While it is not possible here to delve into either term deeply, what elements of community and communion are necessary for creating communities of hope?

Rooted in contemplation

Community life and communion both require a contemplative spirit; this spirit permeates our interactions as we engage a mission beyond ourselves and for which we are willing to sacrifice. I offer a few words on contemplation and interactions.

First, creating communities of hope on a global scale requires that we be contemplatives, that is, that we attend to our passion for Christ.

Elizabeth Dreyer, in concert with Sandra Schneiders, IHM, reminds us that “God is the source and wellspring of prophetic life and mission, and only contemplation keeps us intimately attuned to God’s voice.” 20

Our primary call as religious is to the relationship we have with Christ. We seek God. There is no substitute for contemplation. Time and space so that we may experience God’s invitation not only in the interactions and activities of our days, but also in the quiet depths of our hearts, is necessary. And we know this is not easy. The frenetic nature of society around us has found its way into religious life. Janet Ruffing, RSM rightly calls us to acknowledge our demons of busyness.21 We are busy as women and men religious, but we must continually water this essential root.

We know the grace that comes from contemplation. We contemplate because we seek our “Beloved,” yet as we do, our awareness of the other also increases. We bring this to our activity and to our prayer, and the spiral continues.

This contemplative spirit must permeate our interactions. A community is defined by human interaction. Our level of interaction with one another, our depth of sharing of our lives, indicates our communion. For example, it is not that we live together but how we live together that determines our community. Community life depends upon the sharing of our lives, including the sharing of our spiritual lives, and we are as deeply connected as the depth of our sharing. This does mean risk taking and some adaptability on everyone’s part. There is a give and take in community as we seek communion.

I’m aware that communal living versus living singly (or even with one other sister) is a huge debate in a number of congregations, and congregations must find ways to truly dialogue on these topics while living in an individualistically oriented U.S. culture and an increasingly interdependent world. The witness we offer in creating healthy, adult faith communities is significant. We must find new, creative ways to live, as the structures and even the housing that was once available is no longer. Adult living space is an issue. We seek a way to create quiet spaces, conversational or reading spaces, and entertainment gathering spaces.

Here I must also add that even as you build relationships among members in your congregational families (Dominican, Ursuline, Mercy, etc.), in particular among your younger members, please be attentive to the need to also build across congregations. Women religious are, rightly, spread across lands where there are unmet needs, so the call is to create and engage community for the mission wherever we can. This will only strengthen each congregation, each member and the mission. The blessing of Giving Voice—both the publication and the gatherings of younger women religious—is that we find ourselves with women around the country, and increasingly in conversations with women around the world, sharing our passion for God and passion for humanity. It is as contemplatives and as persons in relationship that we can engage the global and create communities of hope on a global scale. It is to a global public consciousness that we now turn.

Dialogue and global public consciousness

Religious life must be lived with a public global consciousness. I was truly intrigued by the phrase in the 2004 Congress on Consecrated Life about the movement from passion to compassion. Passion for Christ does lead us to passion for humanity, as the Congress theme declares. This passion for Christ is a movement to compassion for humanity, which moves us again to the lives of the people of God. In particular, it moves us with compassion to the suffering and struggling people of God. It is worth noting that Scripture and our social tradition tell us that a community will be marked by its justice.22 In Economic Justice for All, we again hear that the community is to be judged by how the poorest among us fare.23

Now a few words about dialogue and then analysis and action as they relate to creating communities of hope.

Dialogue. Perhaps the biggest task in our lifetime is to be properly prepared to engage in dialogue. We are in an increasingly polarized nation, world and church, and there is no sign of abatement. Oblate School of Theology, where I minister, has a sabbatical program connected to it and in which faculty teach. During the spring semester before our most recent national elections, I offered input on ethical issues in an election year; a lively discussion ensued. I urged the participants to have these discussions in their congregations, among other places, and I offered some Web sites that assist in organizing a discussion. There was a moment of silence, and then one sister said, “I can’t even imagine a discussion on some of these topics among our members.” A few others sadly shook their heads in agreement. This must not be! If we, well-educated members of religious communities, cannot discuss a topic that will evoke a variety of positions, how do we hope or expect that others will—locally, nationally or internationally? At the same time, who can blame her reticence? We can all remember tense discussions during which we would have gratefully accepted a request to take an important phone call in another room!

Our challenge is to dialogue beyond ideologies. Religion commentator John Allen offered the 2004 Catholic Common Ground Annual lecture, and he spoke about the divisiveness and polarization characterizing both church and nation. He asserted a need for a spirituality of dialogue and suggested five elements that seem to be at the core of such a spirituality of dialogue: 1) epistemological humility; 2) solid formation in the Catholic tradition, as a means of creating a common language; 3) patience; 4) perspective, the capacity to see issues through the eyes of others; 5) maintenance of a full-bodied expression of Catholic identity.24 The Catholic Common Ground Project also offers principles for dialogue for use by individuals and groups. However, we cannot go into this lightly. Dialogue beyond ideologies or efforts toward any post-ideological ethos requires openness to conversion on each person’s part, for we generally come with some educated opinions on topics of importance to us, as well as biases and experiences. Our efforts must be theologically grounded, and this will require on-going theological renewal. (This in turn offers further opportunity to engage the moral imagination.)

The call to dialogue was voiced in Vatican II, and we responded to the call, through congregational and theological renewal of immense proportions—and the results are far more light than shadow. This challenge to dialogue is ours now too, and it will be so for at least the next 50 years. Our efforts will serve not only us but also the next generation of women religious here, around the globe; indeed the whole church.

A practical note: dialogue of this type is challenging, and though we cannot speak of peace without dialogue, even with our best efforts we may still find ourselves at the cross. Contemplation and the support of one another is sometimes the only thing that will keep us at the tables—including at some where we are merely or barely tolerated—so that we can speak Gospel truth and bring to the table all those on the margins. This path is fraught with shadow and light, but communities of hope help us engage even the impasses.25

Think big

Creating communities of hope on a global scale requires vision that is both expansive and particular. Global is not in opposition to the local, but actually serves both the local and global context. At the 2003 Amor XIII Asia-Oceania Meeting of Religious in Taiwan, Filo Hirota Shizue, MMB, said that:

The local is where people are and life is…. At the same time, localization needs to be connected so that we can develop a global network of people, groups and communities that continue creating concrete ways and forms in favor of fuller life. The Catholic Church (as well as religious congregations) is a transnational, multinational global system. We are well over one million religious in the world. With each one of us, there are students, parents, clients, patients, colleagues, who are with us. We are capable of enabling a globalization from below that prioritizes life. We used to talk about “think globally and act locally.” Today we have to think and act globally and locally…. glocally.26

As men and women religious we are connected across the globe. These relationships are crucial, for through them we hear the Gospel calling us to place our citizenship in a country with unparalleled power for good and destruction toward the service of those who have little—and their “little” is often due to the unequal advantages that globalization gives the world’s already powerful. We must continue to ask the people concerned how we might best be able to serve one another toward fullness of life. Many congregations are already doing this, and the invitation is to participation among all with whom we minister and engage. Dorothy Stang, SNDdeN, recent martyr in Brazil, made the connection between human rights and environmental rights, and lest our moral outrage become mute without action, we must find ways to respond to the greed and unnecessary consumption driving our own lives and the culture in which we live. The global community of hope thus expands. Movement is happening—among religious congregations as well as organizations such as Center for Concern, NETWORK and others. My recent work has been particularly in HIV/AIDS on a global and local scale, and I find that the underlying causes are connected to so many other social issues, such as poverty and violence.27 This invites further collaboration with many other groups, lay, religious, ecumenical and international.

As I conclude, I want to say that we younger religious are engaged and seek deeper engagement. We are not as many as the generation before us, but we are here in religious life. While this life will look different in each generation, we too have heard a call to seek God through vowed life, and we too seek to hear and follow a God who calls us to love and serve. We do not know what religious life will look like in the future, but we choose to be disciples of the One who calls us to love in this church and world.

To all our efforts to create communities of hope on a global scale, I do believe God says, Yes! Yes! Yes!

1. I distinguish Christian hope here from existential or humanistic hope.

2. William F. Lynch. Images of Hope: Imagination as Healer of the Hopeless (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1965), 23. Lynch powerfully explains that despair occurs because one imagines alone and cannot see outside the situation.

3. Cynthia Glavac. In the Fullness of Life: A Biography of Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U. (New Jersey: Dimension, 1996), 173-174.

4. See Johann Metz, Faith in History and Society: Toward a Practical Fundamental Theology, trans. David Smith (New York: Seabury, 1980), 73.

5. Lynch, Images, 40.

6. Lynch, Images, 40.

7. Maria Carolina Pardo, OSF. “Rochester Franciscans: A Colombian Perspective,” Giving Voice, Vol. III, 2001. We know the truths of these words from the February murder of Dorothy Stang, SNDde Namur. We’ve come to realize that this time of violence is not senseless, but very thought-full.

8. I add the term “moral” to imagination to further focus our attention on the way we live our life as Christians.

9. Here I use the terms imagination, moral imagination and Christian imagination interchangeably.

10. See Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate Web site at http://cara.georgetown.edu.

11. Philip S. Keane, SS. Christian Ethics and Imagination: A Theological Inquiry (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 81.

12. William C. Spohn uses this term and description in Go and Do Likewise: Jesus and Ethics (New York: Continuum, 2000), 56 when commenting on William F. Lynch’s work on the imagination, Images of Hope.

13. Lynch, Images of Hope, 35.

14. Vaclav Havel in “An Orientation of the Heart,” in The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, ed. Paul Rogat Loeb (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 82-83.

15. We here also encounter the analogical imagination which helps us connect and integrate elements of our tradition with our experiences and information about our contemporary world. A key text on the analogical imagination is David Tracy, The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism (New York: Crossroad, 1981).

16. Spohn, Go and Do Likewise, 4.

17. On hope and eschatology, see also Vincent J. Genovesi, SJ, Expectant Creativity: The Action of Hope in Christian Ethics (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1982).

18. For an overview of Aquinas’s discussion of hope, see Romanus Cessario, “The Theological Virtue of Hope” (IIa IIai), 17–22 in The Ethics of Aquinas, ed. Stephen J. Pope (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2002), 232–243.

19. See Web site of Union of International Superiors General http://www.uisg.org.

20. Elizabeth A. Dreyer. “Prophetic Voice in Religious Life,” Review for Religious: 62.3 (2003): 259.

21. Janet Ruffing, RSM. “Resisting the Demon of Busyness,” Spiritual Life (Summer 1995); http://www.worship.ca/docs/p_31_ jr.html (accessed August 14, 2005).

22. Biblical scholar John R. Donahue, SJ offered this working definition of justice: In general terms the biblical idea of justice can be described as fidelity to the demands of a relationship. “Biblical Perspectives on Justice,” in The Faith That Does Justice: Examining the Christian Sources for Social Change, ed. John C. Haughey (New York: Paulist, 1977): 69. Found also in Walter Burkhardt, Justice: A Global Adventure (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2004), 7.

23. U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, no. 8 (Washington, DC: USCCB, 1986) p. 24.

24. John Allen. “Common Ground in a Global Key: International Lessons in Catholic Dialogue,” Catholic Common Ground lecture June 25, 2004 http://ncronline.org/mainpage/ specialdocuments/allen_common.htm (accessed August 8, 2005).

25. Work by Nancy Sylvester, IHM and Mary Jo Klick on engaging impasse is but one such imaginative approach. See Crucible for Change: Engaging Impasse through Communal Contemplation and Dialogue (San Antonio, TX: Sor Juana Press, 2004).

26. Filo Hirota Shizue, MMB, “Theological Reflection,” Amor XIII Reweaving the Network of Life: A Dream for Communion of Heaven, Earth and Human Beings (Taiwan: The Association of Major Superiors of Women Religious in Taiwan and AMOR Secretariat in Taiwan, 2003), 54-55.

27. Maria Cimperman, OSU. When God’s People Have HIV/ AIDS: An Approach to Ethics (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2005).

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