Posted in #IBVM, Novitiate, Travels

A trip to the Mekong Delta

One of my favourite experiences during our visit to Vietnam earlier this month was a trip to the Mekong Delta. It was a fantastic experience, organized by one of our sisters. Even though we participated in an organized tour, I felt like a true adventurer (my childhood dream was to be Indiana Jones!), especially as we paddled along one of the channels of the Delta.

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The Mekong Delta produces over half of Vietnam’s rice as well as many kinds of tropical fruit, like jackfruit, mangosteen, bananas, and others. The vegetation is lush and exotic, particularly to my Canadian eyes.

On the day of our trip, we left Ho Chi Minh City early in the morning and traveled two hours to a spot along the Mekong River. From there, we took a boat down along the river to explore a few different islands. On our first stop we observed how rice paper is made. We also had a delicious traditional Vietnamese lunch – fish, pork, greens, and yummy fresh spring rolls. At each stop there were tourist souvenirs on display.

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Coconut monkeys!

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Wending our way through the jungle.

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The river is brown but it’s not dirty. It is rich with mud and sediment that keeps the Delta fertile.

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Rice paper drying on racks.

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A paste of rice is bubbling away. Soon it will be rolled out into paper.

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I was so tempted to buy a Vietnamese hat.

 

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Our feast! Notice the remains of the elephant fish. It was delish.

After lunch we were taken to another island to visit a bee farm and to taste delicious honey tea.

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I found the water mesmerizing.

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Honey tea – nectar of the gods!

From the bee farm we were led by donkey to a local restaurant to listen to traditional South Vietnamese music and to enjoy a selection of tropical fruit.

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It was a rather bumpy ride.

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Not a great shot but I was trying to capture the ornamental dogs on top of the gate posts. I noticed a lot of houses with ornamental dogs or dragons.

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A feast of fruit! Watermelon, longan, pineapple, dragon fruit, and rambutan.

Finally, we went to a third island to learn how to make coconut candy and try a sample (or two!).

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Coconut candy being mixed. It had an enticing aroma.

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Samples on offer.

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Coconut candies drying and ready to be cut and packaged.

My favourite part of the trip was our jaunt along one of the Mekong channels. It was beautiful and enchanting.

 

At the end of the day I was exhausted but I felt so blessed to have had a little taste of Vietnamese culture.

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Posted in Novitiate, Philippines

rain, rain, rain

As I write this post the rain continues to fall. For a week now it has been raining. We are in the midst of a typhoon, or perhaps we are encountering several, one after another. Streets are flooded. Schools have been closed. Even where we live, which is relatively high up in Quezon City (above sea level), several streets are flooding with the rain and drainage back up. It’s the first time I have experienced such consistent rain and I can’t help thinking of a song I learned when I was young:

 

Posted in #IBVM, Novitiate, Travels

Beautiful Vietnam

The members of our novitiate house had the incredible opportunity to travel to Vietnam last week to visit the IBVM community there. It was a whirlwind week of new sights, sounds, and tastes. I loved exploring Ho Chi Minh City with our sisters (usually on the back of their motorbikes) and learning about their culture. I really fell in love with the city, the culture, and the people. Such an intoxicating mix of East and West.

More to come soon on our visit but first a selection of photos to whet your appetite!

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The Post Office – a beautiful example of the French architecture found in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City.

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A portrait of Ho Chi Minh is prominently displayed in the main hall of the Post Office.

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At Ben Thanh Market.

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Bags, bags, and more bags!

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Bowls made from coconut.

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Amazing embroidery work – gorgeous scenes stitched by hand.

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“The Church of 3 Bells” or the “Dominican Church” – an extraordinary example of the fusion of East and West. The church was built in the style of a traditional pagoda as a way to incorporate the Catholic faith into Asian culture.

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A pair of dragons greet you at the entrance to the church.

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A mountain of fresh spring rolls!

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I visited the museum that commemorates the American War (Vietnam War) – shocking photographs of the atrocities of war and the effects of the war on generations of Vietnamese. A lot of propaganda as well.

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After the museum, I visited Independence Palace – the seat of the Vietnamese government in the 60s and 70s.

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If you visit Ho Chi Minh, look up! Tangles of wires greet you everywhere.

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It’s a work of art.

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A hem (lane) leading into a Japanese neighbourhood.

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Beautiful Vietnam!

Posted in Ignatian Spirituality, Novitiate, Philippines

Light in the city

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For nearly a year now I have been captivated by the words Pope Francis spoke when he visited New York City last September. I have gone back to them time and again, and held them in my heart, especially this year in Manila. During the Mass he celebrated at Madison Square Garden he said:

“In every age, the People of God are called to contemplate this light [referring to the words of the prophet Isaiah]. A light for the nations, as the elderly Simeon joyfully expressed it. A light meant to shine on every corner of this city, on our fellow citizens, on every part of our lives.”

“God’s faithful people can see, discern and contemplate his living presence in the midst of life, in the midst of the city. Together with the prophet Isaiah, we can say: The people who walk, breathe and live in the midst of smog, have seen a great light, have experienced a breath of fresh air.”

As I walk the streets of Manila, I often struggle to see the light of God in the midst of the city. I walk to the supermarket and I choke on the fumes of the traffic, sometimes so much that I have to hold my handkerchief against my nose and mouth. A month ago, I walked home from the LRT station and was splattered with urine by a man living on the street. I’ve been spat on by careless passersby several times. I’ve come home during a heavy rain and discovered that my feet and legs stink of excrement from wading through puddles. My heart aches when I pass by a polluted river or stream, so full of garbage and waste that it cannot support life. Many times I have caught myself judging this city. Why is it so foul? Why is there so much filth everywhere? It’s disgusting! In Canada…

“In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath “the rapid pace of change”, so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no “right” to be there, no right to be part of the city. They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly. These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity. They become part of an urban landscape which is more and more taken for granted, in our eyes, and especially in our hearts.”

I walk to church and I pass men and women sitting on the side of the road or next to a pile of rubbish. I see children, skin blackened with dirt and grime, begging for change. I see hordes of young men standing on the street corner unable to find work or engaged in work without meaning or outlet for their gifts. I see young people with passion and potential shining in their eyes who are unable to express their creativity and talent. And, I’m embarrassed to admit, the more that I see these people, day in and day out, the less I really see them. Like Pope Francis says, they become part of the urban landscape. They blend in with the broken walls I pass and the crumbling pavement I step through each day.

Where is the light of God in all of this? Where is the hope?

“Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope. A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others, for the life of our city. A hope which frees us from empty “connections”, from abstract analyses, or sensationalist routines. A hope which is unafraid of involvement, which acts as a leaven wherever we happen to live and work. A hope which makes us see, even in the midst of smog, the presence of God as he continues to walk the streets of our city. Because God is in the city.”

When I feel overwhelmed by what I find outside my door (which is often), I call upon God in prayer. Usually I talk to Jesus and I tell him that I feel repulsed and angered by what I see outside, by the injustice done to his people. I tell him that I want to help. I want to do more than pass by. I want to engage with his people. I tell him that I feel fed up that this year of novitiate is focused more on prayer than on ministry. I ask, why am I here, in a place that is screaming for assistance on every street corner, and I cannot go out and spend my energy there? I tell him that what I do is not enough. Let me do more.

In my prayer, Jesus basically agrees with me. It’s not enough. I could never do enough to fix all of the problems I see. But I can do what I am called to do. I can engage deeply where I am called to be engaged. I can consciously bring Jesus with me wherever I go, walk the streets of Manila with him, and ask him to show me the light in the city, where hope is to be found. Because there is hope. There is always hope. In my very limited humanity, I can’t always see where hope lies. The details overwhelm me and make me feel powerless and angry. But regardless of my limitations, there is hope.

On Wednesday mornings I volunteer as a caregiver at an organization that looks after street children and youth. I work with babies and toddlers, playing with them, reading to them, cuddling them, giving them as much love as I can for the 2.5 hours that I have with them each week. It’s not enough. The neglect they have experienced in their young lives is evident and they need much more than I can give. But I am present to them for those 2.5 hours and the love I give them is all I have to give. It takes the same amount of time to travel to and from the organization – a train, a taxi, and a jeepney ride each way – and most days it’s a real slog. But reaching the children’s home and seeing their beautiful faces makes it absolutely worth it. It is in the faces of these children that I see the hope of Jesus. In this tiny way that I contribute to the enormous problems of the world, in the concrete way that I am with them, playing with them, and loving them, and in the way that they are loving me too, God is present in the city.

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Posted in #MaryWard, Ignatian Spirituality, Novitiate, Philippines

The painted life

“Look around. Look at what we have. Beauty is everywhere—you only have to look to see it.”
– Bob Ross, American painting instructor

A few weeks ago, Rachel and I watched an episode of The Joy of Painting on Netflix. We listened to Bob Ross’ soothing voice tell us we could paint anything if only we could picture it in our minds. He told us that there are no mistakes, only happy accidents. He made painting look so easy and natural and fun. He made us believe we could be painters too.

We decided to give it a try. A trip to the bookstore yielded the basic supplies to get started.

Two paintings down, we are hooked.

We began with “The Silent Forest”. Painting alongside Bob and listening to his gentle encouragement, it was easy to get lost in the flow of painting. I didn’t follow every step he suggested (we didn’t have all of the paint he used or all of his brushes and tools); I listened to my inner artist and let the paint appear where it would. The end result was a bit darker and a bit scarier than Bob’s happy forest but it’s a masterpiece nonetheless.

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My haunted forest.

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Rachel’s beautiful forest.

We painted along with “Pastel Seascape” next. I had so much fun with colour and form, trying to make clouds in the sunset sky and waves on the ocean.

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My wild and rough ocean.

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Rachel’s serene sea.

There’s a real freedom in painting that I hadn’t anticipated, especially because I’m not too concerned about the final product. It’s a great release to just let go and let the paintbrush dance along the canvas (or paper) and see what takes life.

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The palette of the artists-in-residence.

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A painter’s joy.

“You can do anything here — the only prerequisite is that it makes you happy.”
– Bob Ross

Posted in Novitiate, Philippines, Travels

Island hopping

For three days last week we were the IBVM beach babes.

After a 2.5 hour bus ride and a 1.5 hour ferry ride, we arrived at Talipanan beach on the island of Mindoro for our first (mini) vacation! We spent a glorious three days enjoying the sun and surf.

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It was so good to get out of the city for awhile, to breathe fresh air and see the sparkling ocean. It was actually a startling reminder of how polluted Manila is when I saw how beautiful and clean the ocean is in other parts of the country. The water was turquoise and crystal clear. I felt a spiritual lift just seeing it.

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We stayed in a little house owned by Amami Beach Resort. It wasn’t quite as cute as the cottages below but it had a lovely view of the sea.

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We had the beach to ourselves!

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When the rain came we sat on the front porch and watched nature at work. The force of the rain and wind was pretty spectacular.

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The calm after the storm.

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Lots of places to swim and relax. And then enjoy a cappuccino.

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Talipanan was a gorgeous place to escape to and experience the beauty of the Philippines. We’re already planning a return trip!

Posted in EXODUS Novitiate Program, Novitiate, Philippines

Thrown into the deep end

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We began an inter-congregational novitiate program last week. Nineteen different congregations (including the Missionary Society of St. Paul, Daughters of Wisdom, Redemptorists, Carmelites, and many more) from all over Asia, and parts of Africa, the Caribbean, South America, and Europe (Malta). Two of us are from North America: 1 Mexican and 1 Canadian. We range in age from 18 years to over 40 years. It’s a diverse group and large in size. When we are all present, we number close to 90 participants.

Our first week together was intense. None of us knew what to expect. We assumed ‘orientation’ meant orientation. But, in fact, several of us were immediately thrown into leadership roles and made to carry the program forward. At a pre-orientation meeting earlier in June, I was elected co-chair of our novices’ steering committee. It was a very random election, based on my introduction (name and country), and with no job description provided. When I arrived at the module last Tuesday, I was informed that the other co-chair (who was meant to be ’in charge’) wouldn’t be joining the group until August so until his arrival I would be the one to lead!

I don’t consider myself a particularly spontaneous person but Tuesday morning I became intimately acquainted with the art of improvisation. All of a sudden I was the emcee for a three-day module I knew nothing about. I knew nothing about our schedule, our speakers, or even our purpose over the three days other than ‘orientation’. By the grace of God, and under the guidance of one of the priests who was the head of formation, I learned the ropes. Normally I would hate being in charge of something without knowing details in advance but I learned to go with the flow and to enjoy the experience.

And, anyway, I wasn’t on my own in the deep end. Many others were there with me. Our haphazardly assembled steering committee came together to organize some of the necessary components of the module: prayers 3 times a day (morning, noon and closing), animation sessions (basically icebreaker songs or games), recaps of the day’s lesson, introductions of the speakers, and preparation of thank you cards and gifts. It was a tall order for a group of people who barely knew each other’s names but it was a great success and the collaboration ended up being a lot of fun. I love working in a team environment where others are energized and excited to contribute and I experienced such positive energy and enthusiasm in this group that it was a pleasure to work together. And I am sure it will continue to be a pleasure to work together for the next several months.

I also learned something very important during the module (aside from two disturbing lessons about attitudes toward food safety and sanitation – but now’s not the time to get into that!). I learned how important it is for women to have a voice. Having a voice is something I take for granted in Canada. I don’t worry so much about sharing my opinion. I feel comfortable voicing my ideas and opinions at home and at work, and at church when the opportunity presents itself. However, I see that in this particular environment (the novitiate program), it is harder for women to be heard. Despite the fact that in the Philippines there are many strong women involved in politics, including past female Presidents, in religious life, or perhaps in the church, women’s voices are harder to hear. Men are being trained to be priests, to become preachers, and as such, they are given many opportunities to speak. Women do not have the same opportunities, nor is there the same expectation for women to speak.

The majority of the men in our program appear to be very confident speakers. In fact, some of them seem to use the opportunity to respond to a question to give a quasi-sermon to the group. They are very friendly and helpful guys but there seems to be gender power imbalance at play (such as an unfortunate incident where a man asked a woman to wash his lunch dishes for him!) or at least a limited understanding of women’s roles and abilities. The women, it seems, need some coaxing in order to share their ideas and opinions. They struggle to volunteer their thoughts. I am not sure the reason why. It could be more than gender. It could be age. It could be feeling less confident speaking in English. Regardless of the reason, it’s so important that we hear their voices. We have women from all around the world gathered here, women with diverse backgrounds and from diverse cultures, all with unique points of view that would enrich our dialogue.

I like to think that my next couple of months (or however long it ends up being) in a visible leadership position will help to encourage the other women in the program to speak up. We’ve already had a conversation about it as an IBVM community and we are going to use every opportunity to participate and have a voice and to encourage the other women in the program to join in as well. If we all feel comfortable sharing our views, we will all come away from this time of formation with a rich experience of what it means for men and women in the church to collaborate and to learn from one another.

Please keep us in your prayers!

Posted in Novitiate, Philippines

Sharing the mystery

CIMG3677Gazing at the mysterious

I have an uneasy relationship with Facebook. To me, this form of media is part blessing and part curse. I love that I can stay connected to my family and friends while living thousands of kilometres away from them but I dislike the distraction it can become when I read my newsfeed and I get caught up in the lives, and frequently, the opinions, of others. Especially when I feel I ought to be present in the moment of my day and living my life fully right now. Facebook often seems to take from my life rather than to give.

But this week I have been pondering mystery. Mystery abundant and at work in my life and in all of our lives. By mystery, I mean the mystery of God. I’ve been thinking about my life journey thus far (especially as I am getting closer to the halfway mark of my year in the Philippines) and about how God has been guiding me.

Sometimes I’ve caught myself thinking what am I doing here? Not in the sense that I want to go home, but just, why am I in the place that I am now? As much as I think about it, I can’t really explain it. I don’t know why I have a preference for religious life over marriage and family life or even just being single. It seemed to me growing up that I would get married and have a family but then…. I didn’t. I discovered that it isn’t what I desire for my life. For some reason, this life, where I am right now, is what I desire. I recognize that I am living in mystery.

As I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed this week, I am struck also by the mystery of other peoples’ lives. The mystery of God working in them, shaping them, giving them rich and abundant lives, whether what they share on Facebook is joyful or sorrowful, angry or fearful. We’re sharing mystery all over the place. It’s in the photos of my younger brother’s high school graduation. It’s in the photos and posts of my older brother’s job and travels in Vancouver. It’s in my friends’ photos and posts about their children and growing families. It’s in posts about death and grieving. It’s in posts about tragedy and wide-scale suffering. It’s in the opinions and rants that show the world what we care deeply about. Facebook is permeated with the mystery of life. And it’s beautiful.

This week, by the grace of God, all I feel is gratitude for the way that social media allows us to reveal, to some degree, the mystery of our lives. When we share, it helps us to understand that we are interconnected. Our lives our important to one another, just as they are important to our creator. Our lives are the constant revealing of mystery.

Posted in #retreat, Novitiate

To live the Constitutions

A follower of Mary Ward, just like a Jesuit, can only be someone who has experienced what it is to be loved unconditionally by God, who has at least to some degree attained indifference, who knows (again experientially) what is it is to be a forgiven sinner, who has been profoundly attracted by the person of Jesus Christ and become committed to his project, who has learnt the art of discernment through being wisely accompanied, at least once, in making a life-changing decision, who has entered into the suffering and death of Jesus Christ and received intimations of his risen life and glory, who embraces herself, her life, other people and all creation as gift, hence becoming sensitized spiritually to recognize God in all things. Without these graces no one can understand, still less live, the Constitutions. They are not addressed to anyone else.

From: O’Leary, Brian. “‘Hither I Must Come to Draw’ Mary Ward and the Ignatian Constitutions.” The Way 51.3 (2012). p.35

I love this passage. I came across it during my reading last week and it has stayed with me. I have been pondering it for several days. For me, it sums up beautifully the relationship between the Spiritual Exercises and living out our Constitutions. We live by grace.

 

Posted in #MaryWard, Ignatian Spirituality, Novitiate, Philippines

Women at the heart of the church

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Studying the Constitutions at the Eco Park

I am in love with this way of life. The more that I learn about the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the deeper I want to go and the more that I find that resonates with the graces I received on retreat. We are currently studying our Constitutions together, taking it section by section. Rather than a series of rules and regulations, the Constitutions read more like a guide for living a full and happy life with God. It’s such a rich document. It relates the history of the Institute as well as setting out the way of life we are called to live.

It amazes me that it was only recently (in the 1980s) that the IBVM was finally able to fulfill Mary Ward’s vision for her ‘least Institute’: to take the same as the Society. Meaning that we have the same Constitutions as the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). In her time Mary Ward was only able to go so far as to adapt the summary document of the full Constitutions, the Institutum (adapted and presented to the pope in 1622), but she wasn’t able to get it approved by the Holy See. It was considered quite radical to suggest a community of missionary apostolic women who would engage in spiritual matters. Here’s a selection that outlines the vision and mission of the Institute, although the language we use today to describe the activities of the mission is not quite the same (e.g. we don’t really use words like ‘evil living’ or ‘women of profligate life’ anymore).

From IBVM Constitutions Volume I: Institutum:

1.       … She is a member of a Society founded chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defence and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine.

  • by helping them be brought back from heresy and evil living to faith and goodness and to a certain special obedience to the Holy See,
  • by gathering together and disposing the people for public preaching, lectures, and any other ministration whatsoever of the word of God,
  • and further by means of the Spiritual Exercises, the education of girls and unlettered persons in Christianity,
  • by teaching Catechism and the reverent use of sacred things and by giving that education to them in schools and communities which seem most suitable for the common good of the Church and their own particular good whether they have chosen to spend their lives in the world or in religion;
  • and finally by leading such people to the spiritual consolation of Christ’s faithful and by disposing them for Confession and the other Sacraments, and by arranging for Preachers and Spiritual Fathers to be send to the country and to the more neglected places;
  • also by seeking out women of profligate life and preparing them to receive grace through the Sacraments so that Doctors, Preachers and Apostolic men of the Church of God may have more leisure to attend to greater and more universal affairs.

Moreover she should show herself ready to reconcile the estranged, compassionately assist and serve those who are in prisons and hospitals, and indeed to perform any other works of charity, according to what will seem expedient for the glory of God and the common good.

Given the restrictions placed on women at the time, I think it’s incredible that Mary Ward and her companions undertook these activities and gave their lives to God out of great love. It took centuries for the Church to fully understand the gift of women’s apostolic congregations and to approve them in the manner that their founders had been divinely inspired. (Praise God for the Second Vatican Council!) Reading our Constitutions provides a mini history lesson as well as a manifestation of the working of the Holy Spirit. The sisters who have gone before me were incredibly tenacious and generous women. They were scorned, misunderstood, and at times manipulated, and yet they continued to strive for Mary Ward’s vision for the Institute.

From Constitutions Volume I: General Examen, Chapter 1:

{1} This least Institute was not brought into being by human means. Mary Ward’s inspiration in 1611 was to take the same of the Society [of Jesus] so understood, as that we were to take the same both in matter and manner, that only excepted which God by diversity of sex hath prohibited. In 1631 Pope Urban VIII ordered the suppression of her Institute. Nevertheless, through the heroic efforts of Mary Ward’s faithful followers, the call to work for the defence and propagation of the faith and for the education of women and girls continued.

…In 1877 the Institute was confirmed by the Holy See; it was not until 1909 that Mary Ward was acknowledged as its founder.

….In the renewal following Vatican Council II, the whole Institute reflected on Mary Ward’s vision and her desire to adopt the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus for her Institute. As a result of this reflection new Constitutions were approved: for the Roman Branch in 1978, for the Irish Branch in 1985, and for the North American Branch in 1986.

In 2009, coinciding with the 400th anniversary of the founding of the IBVM, a renewed Constitutions was approved by the Holy See. The ‘modern document’, as we refer to it, is an updated version that clarifies certain sections of the Ignatian Constitutions that are no longer valid due to changes in canon law. It is also breathes a beautiful new spirit into the Institute and is written like a piece of poetry.

From Constitutions Volume II: Chapter 1:

1.2 We are companions of Jesus,
women at the heart of the Church,
called to follow Christ
in a discipleship of love,
ready to labour
with freedom and joy,
that in all things God may be glorified.

1.3 The Ignatian tradition,
interpreted through a woman’s eye,
is our graced heritage.
In prayer, Mary Ward was led to see
that this was the way God wanted for her Institute;
this was the pathway to holiness
that she and her companions were to walk.

As I reflect on the Constitutions, I am drawn back to my retreat graces of discipleship and friendship with Jesus. I can see how life in this Institute is my pathway to holiness and that it allows me to live fully the graces I received and as the person I was created to be.

As we continue to study the Constitutions I will write more about them. In this post I’ve basically described some of our history rather than our manner of living so stay tuned for more!