Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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Looking back

As I look back through photos from the past few years, I am reminded of the incredible experiences I’ve had since joining the IBVM. I find it hard to believe all that has happened, and, oh, the places I have been. I am in awe of it all and filled with gratitude.

Arriving at Loretto Abbey in September 2014. I was struck by how beautiful it is.

Received as a candidate with the IBVM.

Helping Marren to dress for a Canadian winter. 

Our evening tea time at the Abbey.

My first visit to New York City and the United Nations – March 2015.

Halloween at the Abbey – October 2015.

 

Received as a novice – December 2015. 

Memories of the Philippines and Vietnam – 2016. First year/canonical year of novitiate.

My second visit to New York City and a chance to intern at the IBVM UN NGO – April to July 2017.

Discernment retreat for profession of first vows. Pondering the future – August 2017. 

This prayer of Thomas Merton has accompanied me for much of my adult life and it has been in my heart many times over the past three years:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
– Thomas Merton

It still rings true to me now, even with my first profession just a few weeks away. There is always an element of risk in life; we cannot ever be completely certain of where we are going or what will happen. Certainly over the past three years much has happened that I could not predict, and I suspect the future will be the same. I have come to see that religious life, despite sounding quite tame and restrictive, is anything but. There is a lot that is unknown and much joy that comes in the discovery.


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Provincial Assembly 2015

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Last weekend our community held its annual Provincial Assembly. All members of the Canadian Province were invited to the Abbey to discuss the Calls (outcomes) that emerged from the Institute-wide General Congregation (GC) that took place in Spain last September. The General Congregation marked the end of the term of the past General Council in Rome, and the election of a new General Council and mandate. The Calls are what form the mandate for the next 8 years. The Calls from GC14 are:

  1. Reclaim the freshness of the Gospel, allowing Jesus to transform our lives.
  1. Bring those forced to live in poverty to the centre of our life and ministry.
  1. Go where the need is greatest.
  1. Live sustainably, discerning what is enough.
  1. Create the oneness that moves us across boundaries.

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I attended the day and a half long event with eagerness and excitement. Since I am still a candidate and not a fully professed member of the Institute, I felt very privileged to be able to participate and share my thoughts. The table discussions were very rich.

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There was a significant focus on the first call – a real excitement to rediscover the gospel message, begin Mary Ward Circles (prayer circles) for gospel reflection, and look more closely at the New Evangelization. Everyone agreed that Call 1 is the foundation for the rest of the Calls and paramount to the life of the Institute.

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Through our discussions on poverty and sustainable living, I learned in more detail about some of the ministries undertaken by individual sisters, the gifts and strengths of the Institute in Canada, as well as the challenges it is facing. There is much that can be done and I sensed a great desire among the sisters to carry these Calls out into action.

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I was very impressed by the openness and candour of the discussions. Certainly, there are many challenges ahead facing this ageing community, but I was struck by the hope and optimism that coloured our conversations, and the trust that God will always provide what is needed. At the end of the Assembly, I felt very much that I had just been part of a family gathering. My experience at the Assembly was for me another confirmation from God that this is where I am meant to be.

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Meeting Sr. Cyril

videostillImage taken from: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/1999/09/03/september-3-1999-mother-teresas-legacy/2847/ 

Sr. Cyril Mooney, ibvm visited us at Loretto Abbey for a couple of weeks in May and June. I had heard a lot about her from the sisters here, about her work in India and her gregarious personality, so I was very keen to meet her.

She travelled to the U.S to receive an honourary doctorate from St. Michael’s College in Burlington, Vermont before coming to Canada. Her work to educate children in India has been recognized through a number of awards and honours.

Even from the short time that I spent in her company, I could see that Sr. Cyril is a force to be reckoned with. Very determined and focused, she has spent much of her life trying to alleviate the struggles of the poor in India through education. She taught and was principal at Loreto Sealdah school in Calcutta, and implemented a number of innovative programs there. The school caters to children from both poor and wealthy areas of Calcutta, but because the girls all wear uniforms there is no distinction between them. In the school they are equals.

The girls are taught to bear responsibility for others and actually help to teach the “Rainbow Children” (the children from the streets who come to the school for classes and who also receive food and shelter). What I also found fascinating was the outreach she and her students do to help children that are involved in domestic labour and are unable to attend school. The students go around to homes where they suspect that children are being used as domestic servants and use a variety of methods, including asking the children to come out to play, to try to put an end to the practice. Children are empowered to help other children in need and to realize their right to education and grow to their full potential. I really think this is amazing.

But what struck me most about Sr. Cyril, even more than her many accomplishments and innovative practices, was her obvious deep love for the children she works with. It was plain to see that it is this love that has motivated her and has kept her working so hard throughout her life. It was beautiful to witness and deeply inspiring.


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When calamity strikes

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By nature, I’m a fairly conscientious person. I like to get things done. I make timetables and lists, and I check the “To Do’s” off as I finish them. I like itineraries. I guess what I really like is predictability and a sense of control.

I’ve noticed over the course of the last few months, however, that the more I try to order and schedule my life, maximize my time, and be the most efficient I can be, I end up getting knocked totally off course! Case in point: for the past couple of weeks, I had diligently spent time in prayer and reflection in order to prepare for our big Canadian Provincial meeting that was to take place at the end of March. It was my first time participating in such an event and I was really excited about it. I had my notes carefully prepared, and I was looking forward to sharing my thoughts with the sisters. But then last Wednesday, calamity struck!

15 sisters, 3 de la Salle brothers, and several of the staff at the Abbey came down with norovirus. The next day, 4 more people were hit (including me, which makes this illness #4 or #5 I’ve been stricken with since Christmastime – which, by the way, better not be indicative of my future in religious life!). By the weekend, only a handful of people had been spared. I’m happy to say that everyone is recovering well, but we did have to postpone the big meeting. I was disappointed. Even amid severe stomach cramps, I had hoped that somehow we could still make it happen.

Instead, I used the quiet time (immobilized on my bed) to read about Mary Ward’s companions. Since reading a few biographies of Mary Ward earlier in the year, I have been very curious about the lives of her first companions. Not much is known about these women other than what is revealed in correspondence and some of the Institute’s historical documents. These women were quite young (some joined as young as 15 years old!), adventurous, dedicated, and faithful. They endured severe poverty, illness, uncertainty, and persecution. They were put in charge of schools and the formation of novices, were put in positions of authority in foundations in foreign lands, and were required to make difficult decisions. They often went years without seeing Mary Ward, with only letter correspondence to stay in touch. Many of them died while still young (30 years old and younger). Yet they were faithful to Mary Ward’s vision, to their call to religious life, and to the community.  They inspire me and I aspire to grow to be like them – to be steadfast and faithful (in sickness and in health!) and to be open and responsive to God’s working in my life.

And maybe, just maybe, to relinquish the “To Do” lists once in a while.


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Happenings

I think I am giving in to the February blahs these days. I’m finding it hard to be motivated to write a blog post, even though there has been a lot going on.

I think I mentioned the Mary Ward celebration previously. As part of Mary Ward week, we celebrated a special Mass together on January 25th. It was really beautiful. We all gathered in the Abbey chapel, which doesn’t happen too often. Many of the sisters from the infirmary joined us, which made it even more special, and all of the sisters renewed their vows. Afterwards we had a festive happy hour, naturally (and got to celebrate the 101st birthday of our Sr. Herman!), and dinner.

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A couple of weeks ago I attended a Mass for consecrated life at St. Paul’s Basilica with a number of the sisters. While the Cardinal gave a lovely homily, the Mass itself felt a bit flat. It didn’t have much of a celebratory feel to it at all (our Mary Ward celebration was much more enthusiastic!), which was a real shame. With all of the diversity and rich tradition found in the religious communities in the GTA, I thought it would be a lot peppier! Perhaps next year. After the Mass I attended a Mary Ward dinner at Loretto College, the women’s residence on the UofT campus. Since it was a formal occasion, the young women were all beautifully dressed (a few were wearing red carpet worthy gowns!) and the dinner was elegantly served (Greek food – yum!). One of the women read a brief biography of Mary Ward, and then we listened to music from the 17th century while we ate. It was a lovely event and much livelier than the Mass!

 

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I also recently had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion on consecrated life at Regis College. There were 4 speakers – 2 women religious (a Xaviere Sister, and a Sister from the Institute of the Incarnate Word) and 2 men religious (a Jesuit and a Spiritan) – who each gave a brief testimony about how they found joy in religious life. They were very inspiring. I was especially moved by the Xaviere Sister. The community live simply and are rooted in Ignatian spirituality, and in trying to find God in all things. They don’t wear habits, and work in whatever fields they have been trained in prior to entering the community. One sister in their community is an engineer, another is an investment banker. They bring their spirituality into the workforce with them which I think is fantastic. It’s a very hard thing to do these days.

I’ve got more to write but not so much motivation today. My candidacy director and I have been contemplating Mary Ward’s charism over our last few meetings together. There’s too much to say about it in this post here so I will try to write another one soon to share what I am learning. The sisters here are making a retreat next week, starting on Sunday. I’m sure that in the silence that will soon pervade the house I’ll find more time and energy to write!


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Time to Celebrate!

Celebrate…by @Jerry – Flickr/Creative Commons

Today we celebrate significant milestones in the lives of the sisters. At a special jubilee prayer and dinner this evening, we will honour the sisters who have spent 50, 60, 65, 70 and 75 years in religious life. It’s really quite phenomenal. For someone who has spent only 6 or 7 weeks in a religious community, it seems an incredible feat to give 75 years to this life!

What strikes me, each day, is how happy the sisters seem to be. Even though they may struggle with physical ailments and limitations, they radiate happiness and joy, and they give me hope for my own future in religious life. Certainly, if the sisters I live with were unhappy or felt a sense of hopelessness about the future, I would be plotting my escape. But their dedication and their joy is a true inspiration. Time to celebrate!