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Saturday, 07 February 2015 13:48

Some questions for the Year of Consecrated Life

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Sr Pauline Morgan rsjAfter reading John Philip Newell’s book, "Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings, The Rebirthing of God," Sister Pauline Morgan rsj ponders what is trying to emerge from deep within the collective soul of Religious, in the context of the Year of Consecrated Life.

Recently, after reading John Philip Newell’s wonderful book, Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings, The Rebirthing of God, (2014) I found myself asking the following questions as we move into a year dedicated to Consecrated Life.

What is trying to be born?
What is the new thing that is trying to emerge from deep within us... from deep within the collective soul of Religious?

The Text
The Introduction of Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings. The Rebirthing of God, Newell, John Philip (2014 xi) states: The walls of Western Christianity are collapsing. In many parts of the West that collapse can only be described as seismic. There are three main responses or reactions to this collapse. The first is to deny that it is happening. The second is to frantically try to shore up the foundations of the old thing. The third is to ask what is trying to be born. What is the new thing that is trying to emerge from deep within us and from deep within the collective soul of Christianity?

Writings that resonate with Newell’s language and issues

  • John Newell describes the changes as “seismic”.
  • Sandra Schneiders writes about the “new normal” in Religious Life.
  • Joan Chittister asks us what we want to be “caught dead doing”?
  • Ilia Delio urges us to discover the “still point of the heart that enables us to do new things”.
  • Brother Philip Pinto, the recent Congregational Leader of the Christian Brothers, asks “What do I notice happening in our world that is changing the way I live my life?”
  • Teilhard de Chardin (1881 – 1955) wrote that Christianity was “reaching the end of one of its natural cycles of existence.”
  • Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) spent his life developing our understanding of the importance of respecting and honouring that which is deep within us.
  • Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) is quoted as saying “learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to keep questioning.”
  • [The Sisters of St Joseph] 26th General Chapter (November 2013) calls us to consider “what emerging needs are calling us to mutual dialogue and action?”
  • [The Sisters of Saint Joseph] Constitutions begin “This is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly, to walk humbly with your God.”
  • Mary MacKillop reflected “Little did we dream of what was to spring from so small a beginning” (1891)
  • Pope Francis in his message for the Year of Consecrated Life wrote “the Gospel is demanding; it demands to be lived radically and sincerely.”

So, what might be the new thing that is trying to emerge from deep within us, in these times?

We read in the Genesis story (12:1-3) that we are to “go to the land I will show you; and there I will bless you”. Newell (2014: 57) writes that to “truly carry blessing for the world whether as individuals or together as religious traditions, we are invited to move into new lands of awareness and wisdom. There we will be blessed. And there we will become blessing for one another”. What might be these new lands of awareness and wisdom?

Prior Experience
For those of us who have lived Religious Life for many years, where have we found new lands before?
I remember the excitement of finding new lands in the first few years after Vatican 11. Theology was exciting, relevant to our lives, providing us with hope and energy. By day we were busy in our traditional works, by night we were reading and discussing and hoping and dreaming of what might be. Our Congregation and Province Leaders gathered us together to hear the speakers, the prophets of the time, and enabled us to attend lectures and seminars that inspired us and filled us with hope and enthusiasm. When we get together today we find we can still recall what we heard and talked about during these times. We kept alive a firm belief that something was trying to be born, that a new thing was emerging, that we were being invited into new lands.

I am sure we can all recall many other times when individually and as a group we have been invited, and sometimes compelled, to move into new lands where we found ourselves to have been blessed and to have been a blessing for others.

Present Invitation
Now, in 2015, in this year dedicated to Consecrated Life, Pope Francis invites us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present passionately and embrace the future with hope. We are invited again into lands of new awareness and hope, bringing with us wisdom distilled from our lived experiences. We are invited to stand together, open to the new thing that is trying to emerge from deep within us.

This article was first published on 1 February 2015 at the website of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart.