Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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A Litany of Thanks

It’s my final day in New York City. At least for now. I hope to come back someday soon.

The past three months have been a dream come true. Even more than a dream come true, really, because I had no idea what these three months could hold. I’ve titled this post A Litany of Thanks because the overwhelming emotion that I feel right now is gratitude. I thank the IBVM for recognizing my personal and professional interests and for letting me explore them at the UN in such a meaningful way. I thank Cecilia, our IBVM representative at the UN, for hosting me and for giving me freedom to engage in the UN system and to contribute to the work of our NGO and other NGO committees. I thank Libby for bringing a bit of Australia to New York City and for sharing her wisdom and humour and making us all laugh at the right moment.

I thank God for guiding me along the way and for being with me here in New York and at the UN in a way that I had not yet experienced in my life. For the first time, I have felt a total unity between what I would consider my professional life and my private life – I have truly experienced God in all things. In all places and people and in all moments. I haven’t experienced this kind of unity before. Previously, I had felt a huge divide between my work life and my private life, especially my involvement in my parish. A big gap between the secular and spiritual. But now everything is spiritual, everything belongs to God and is of God. Divine life is everywhere!

I thank the UN (inasmuch as I can thank an institution) for the spaces and opportunities to join with other people to dialogue and debate, to learn and to grow, to listen and to be moved. It is a great privilege to be here and to be exposed to so many of the world’s struggles and achievements and, most of all, to witness incredible resiliency and determination to make the world a better place for all. At times, I have been caught up in a swell of optimism and idealism, and other times I have been brought low by realism or even pessimism. But it’s all part and parcel of the onward movement of humanity. In a moment of frustration, I once joked to Cecilia and Libby that we are at the intersection of dysfunction here at the UN. We experience the dysfunction of the various NGO committees, the dysfunction of Member States, and the dysfunction of the UN system itself. Not to mention our own personal dysfunction and NGO dysfunction. We’re in the middle of a vortex. So no wonder things are tediously slow and disorganized at times! But even in the midst of all kinds of dysfunction, I know that I love this work and I believe in it with all of my being.

And last, but definitely not least, I thank New York City for giving me a home and a playground to explore for the past three months. The first week I was here, I was bit shocked by the noise and wondered if I would ever find a quiet space. But then all of a sudden, I didn’t hear the noise and it didn’t bother me again (except for the occasional late night siren or slamming door in the hall that disturbed my sleep!). The noise became the hum of life. The energy of the city gave me energy and really brought me to life. I’ve gone out to do and see so much.

I’ve volunteered on weekends at the 91st Street Community Garden and with Franciscans Deliver, a food pantry outreach at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Midtown. I’ve traversed the length and width of this island many times, discovering its neighbourhoods, parks, museums, and churches. I’ve been to concerts and plays, a comedy club, a late show taping, and taken a tour of the NBC studios at Rockefeller Centre. I’ve hunted down landmarks that have special meaning for me, places that Madeleine L’Engle, Helene Hanff, Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day brought life to. I’ve encountered the most unusual people walking down the street (an old man in pink lingerie riding a scooter, as one example) and of course, I have also witnessed the most shocking poverty and neglect in the homeless people I’ve encountered on every street. With visiting friends, I’ve laughed until my stomach has ached and I’ve cried desperate tears. I’ve celebrated Canada Day and the Fourth of July with equal gusto. I’ve gotten to taste an amazing slice of life in this city and I devoured it with great delight.

For the past three months and all they have contained, I say: thank you.


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What happened at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues?

As we wrapped up this week at the UN at the Forum on Financing for Development, I realized that I hadn’t posted anything about the forum I attended when I arrived in New York in April: the Permanent Forum in Indigenous Issues.

The Forum was a powerful experience. It was a great privilege to listen to the voices of indigenous people from around the world, gathered together to share their common struggles, hopes, and dreams. One of the things that struck me again and again throughout the Forum was the resiliency embodied by these groups of people. For many of the indigenous groups, including those from Canada, it was not their first visit to the UN. Many have been coming, year after year, to share the same grievances and to demand change in the same areas, perhaps making tiny steps forward each year, perhaps not. It was truly an inspiring and humbling experience to participate in dialogues and conversations with these diverse groups and to reflect on my own attitudes and actions towards indigenous peoples.

I would like to share some of the reflections of our IBVM NGO. Please take a look at the recent UN UPDATE 26.

You can read about Indigenous-Peoples-and-Climate-Change or listen to the reflection.

You can also read Libby’s reflection on the The-Great-Silence or watch her video. Enjoy!


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Renewal – Attire

A depiction of Mary Ward wearing the traditional IBVM habit although
it’s unlikely that she dressed quite like this.

I’ve decided to end my blogging spree on Vatican II renewal with an issue that is a bit of a thorn in my side. Often, the biggest critique I hear about the effects of Vatican II has to do with clothing. I’ve heard complaints that women religious went wild after Vatican II, rejecting the habit, which somehow means that they also reject church teaching and authority, and are therefore a lesser version of their sisters in habits. I’ve seen this mentality in posters advertising Catholic conferences for which admission is free for men and women religious, as long as they wear their habit.

To be honest, I’m not too bothered about the clothes. When I was discerning a vocation and investigating religious communities, I didn’t care whether or not the sisters wore a habit. I was looking for a community in which I could be fully myself and contribute the gifts I have been given by God. I understand and respect the symbolic nature of the habit and I respect those communities who do wear one but I also don’t see it as a sign of lesser commitment to religious life to not wear a habit.

The IBVM did wear a habit for a long time even though Mary Ward did not wear a habit and did not want her sisters to wear one. In order for Mary Ward and her sisters to be effective in their mission and to work among the people, they did not wear a habit. However, successive generations of sisters were introduced to the habit by church hierarchy and eventually it became a requirement under canon law. Those generations of sisters did adopt the habit and it became an important part of their identity.

However, with the renewal of Vatican II, religious communities were encouraged to go back to their roots and the vision of their founders and foundresses. The IBVM, after careful discernment, decided to return to habit-less life, as per Mary Ward’s vision, wearing contemporary clothing. This occurred gradually over many years, beginning with a modified habit before the sisters were donning street clothes. I believe in Mary Ward’s vision for her Institute and in the dignity of women religious who do not wear a habit. Whenever I hear criticism about the clothing worn by women religious, I will go back to this statement by Mary Ward, shared during the 1967 Chapter of Renewal:

Our attire should be such as can provide an example of Christian modesty and the other religious virtues to seculars and others: such as poverty, elegance (good taste and appropriateness) and religious decorum. Our clothing should accord with the type that honourable women of the region where we are needed or dwell, wear. We should be ever alert to opportunities for greater perfection and at the same time always rejecting anything that savours of the slightest worldliness or vanity. Submission to God and the common good should be the guiding line of our progress.
        – From Mary Ward’s Memorial to Pope Paul V


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Renewal – Poverty

The pilgrim Mary Ward, free to refer all to God, free to live the vow of poverty.

Poverty continues to be something I wrestle with, especially after my experiences in the Philippines. I am drawn to it, desire it, long for it. And I am challenged by how to live it here in Canada. I find comfort and inspiration in the words coming from the 1967 Chapter of Renewal.

Poverty is not dependent solely on lack of material things, nor even modern ‘insecurity’; rather it is dependence upon God from whom we receive all we have, a dependence which should also be a ‘shining’ witness.

Common life, devotion to labour, sharing with the poor, and ‘frugal’ living are all manifestations of the reality of the spirit of poverty. Ultimately, poverty means total dedication – of time, talents, all circumstances – a gift of self to Christ in others, a response to Christ who emptied Himself.

Mary Ward’s Vision of the ‘Just Soul’ would seem to embody our Foundress’ concept of the total dependence upon God and ‘perfect liberty…(to) refer all things to God’ – in that state before the Fall when, receiving everything, they experienced no clinging, and in reality were never so poor.


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Renewal – Obedience

Mary Ward’s obedience to the will of God led her to found the IBVM.

The vow of obedience is a topic I haven’t yet broached on this blog. Last October/November I wrote about the vows of poverty and chastity but didn’t get around to obedience (a Freudian slip?). I became engrossed in my immersion experience in Lipa and didn’t feel drawn to write about obedience after that. But the lack of a post has been duly noted and will be rectified at some point in the nearish future.

As I read through the archive material on obedience I became very aware of how differently the vow was lived out in the pre-Vatican II world of IBVM religious life. I have great respect for the sisters of that time who lived the practice of being sent for mission without any consultation. That would be a great challenge for me. I have to admit that I feel deep gratitude that I am living in an era of religious life where that is no longer the practice. Here are a few selections from the 1967 Renewal Chapter that stood out to me. I suspect that the living out of the vow of obedience has continued to evolve since that time.

The apostolic nature of obedience is basic to our vocation and its ultimate norm is the will of the Father, sought and found through a deep spirit of faith in the decisions of superiors whose role it is to “serve rather than please”.

A key aspect of the newer approach to obedience is the prior consultation with the sisters before the superior makes a decision. This is rather a mutual ‘discernment of spirits’, listening to the Spirit, than a democratic majority rule…

The stress today is upon total life commitment rather than minute prescriptions, upon the importance of forming one’s conscience, upon obedience as ‘being sent’, upon individual discernment regarding exceptions, upon personal responsibility for the permissions one asks, upon the necessity for mutual openness and humility.


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Renewal – Chastity

Chastity frees us to move out into the world and to respond with love.

I’ve written about chastity before so I won’t go into much detail here. But as I read the Chapter of Renewal notes, I was struck again by the beauty of the vow of chastity and its gift of opening us up to the world.

The motive of Chastity is love of God; the result of Chastity is instense love of neighbour; it is nourished by a spirit of prayer. Our Chastity frees us for deep, personal relationships with one another. Rather than a protective attitude, it engenders a continual growing in love, and a continuing going out to others. 

This makes demands on us: openness to the Holy Spirit’s urging; a learning to accept love; mutual acceptance and reciprocal giving. It is God Who first loved us and Who gives us the capacity to love. The test of love is not emotion, but trust and service; ultimately love is a mystery.


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Renewal – Vocations

Mural depicting scenes from Mary Ward’s life

As I read through the minutes of the 1967 Chapter of Renewal, I was struck by the concern about vocations, and particularly the shortage of vocations to meet the demands for ministry. It seems to me that the vocation shortage then can’t begin to compare with what we are experiencing now, however, it helped me to see that the decline in vocations has not been sudden but has been in effect for some time. I was struck by the Institute’s reflection on the cause of the decline in vocations and I wonder if it is still applicable today.

There is a need of study into the causes of the present vocation shortage: the unstable culture of the astro-jet age; the widened opportunities in the lay apostolate; and the ‘identity crisis’ in religious life itself.

Might we not be being called now by the Holy Spirit to draw others through the sign of loving community. Perhaps the problem lies with our ‘image’ within the community, where lack of charity weakens mutual trust and forebearance. Today’s young women are especially sensitive to a lack of real community witness to the “Communion of Saints”. At reception, each is accepted as ‘a child of the Institute’. How can this be realized more fully?