Mother Theresa Dease, founder of the IBVM Canadian Province.
For the past month or so I’ve spent a couple of hours each week reading in our Loretto archives. I’ve long been curious about the modern history of the IBVM in Canada and so for part of my second-year novitiate formation, I am doing a sort of independent study. My interest at the moment is Vatican II and the effects of renewal on the Institute in Canada.
To gain a full appreciation of the changes that took place after Vatican II, I had to start my reading much earlier. I began my reading where our earliest significant documentation has been collected, around 1900, with the records of Chapters (major decision-making gatherings of the Institute). It’s intriguing to read about the monastic customs the Institute had adopted and to see the attention and detail paid to very minute aspects of daily life. It’s definitely not the way of life of the Institute I recognize today.
I’ve since worked my way up through the decades. For the past couple of weeks I have been immersed in the 1960s, fascinated by the Renewal Chapter of 1967 and the follow up Chapter in 1969.
From the documents I have read, mostly preparatory materials and meeting minutes, I get a sense of the excitement of the time. Prior to these Chapters, there was extensive consultation with Institute members. I have scanned through stacks of questionnaires related to community life, prayer, and mission. It’s a fascinating look at the Institute’s response to the Vatican’s suggestion that religious institutes go back to their roots and re-discover themselves through the vision of the founder.
I was amazed by the exhortation I read from a priest advisor to the Chapter encouraging the Sisters to experiment. He urged them to experiment widely – for the next 20 years! – and listen to the Holy Spirit to see where it leads. I am struck by the openness and the bravery of the Sisters to discern beyond what they knew and what they were comfortable with regarding religious life.
There’s so much that I would like to share that it’s too much for a single blog post. So instead I will share a quote or two each day on one aspect of renewal. To begin, here is a selection on the beauty of religious life that I have taken to my prayer.
Religious are to be signs that are not only seen and heard, but which become ‘carriers of a message’ in order to help others to ‘ratify’ their commitment to Christ, to effect a change of heart, of attitude (in Japanese: ‘how your heart lies’)…The sense of person, and growth in deeper love depends upon reverence. Relationship to persons, ‘real community’, ‘to make others joyful’, is the test of Christian maturity.
Yet our witness must be meaningful in this world (not the moon). We have need to render our witness plain, to eliminate whatever blurs that witness. The more natural we are the more supernatural witness we give. Only then does our witness – through the renunciation of the positive personal values involved in the vows, a renunciation fired with love – become a representation of love for God, and the request for return of love in living faith. Our existence partakes of the ‘scandal’ of the Cross which points outside itself to the ‘explosion of divine love’. It is an anticipation of Christian death freely chosen now as a loving decision for God. ‘Normal in any field’ we are nonsense unless Christ is alive, the Lord, now! We are the answer to the ‘death of God’; we witness not only to the existence of God, but His presence of love.
Taken from: Minutes of the 1967 General Chapter of Renewal, June 28 – July 30, First Session, Book 1
Loretto Abbey, Toronto