“A vow doesn’t give us the hope of results, it gives us the container for our life”: Insights and realizations shared from the Leadership of Women Religious meeting

August 11, 2016

“See I am doing something new – now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?”
– Isaiah 43:19

Data from the National Religious Retirement Office show that the number of men and women religious in the U.S. has dropped from 107,000 to 49,000 in the last 20 years — and will be fewer than 29,000 by 2025.

Johannes Metz’s theory is that we are not in a crisis of numbers of vocations but in a ‘crisis of function.'”

Sisters are constantly inventing new ways to meet the needs of the time, even if that hasn’t made them younger or given them crowds of new members.

Leadership expert Margaret Wheatley address earlier that day, titled “Finding Ground in the Age of Groundlessness,” outlined the need for leaders to take time for contemplation in a world that promotes “constant reactivity” rather than thought.   “How we approach this time when the very fabric of society is being ripped apart by conflict and polarization, how we are in that groundlessness — for me, speaking very personally, I can only be in it because I have spent months in contemplation,” she said, noting that spends about a third of the year living in contemplative retreat.

Wheatley said she considers women religious to be the greatest female leaders on the planet, but in order for them to be a presence of peace and love in the world, sisters must be willing to live from a contemplative stance — which may require a new way of viewing ministry.

“You live a vowed life,” she said. “What a vow does — it doesn’t give us the hope of results, it gives us the container for our life . . . we cannot be tied to a hope for results. Someone said expectations of change are just premeditated disappointments.”

“You live a vowed life,” she said. “What a vow does — it doesn’t give us the hope of results, it gives us the container for our life . . . we cannot be tied to a hope for results”

Setting the stage for what contemplative dialogue can do for women religious, Sr. Liz Sweeney gave a presentation on the evolution of human consciousness and what that means for women religious. The highest level of human evolution, Sr. Liz Sweeney said, is the level at which one lives to give away love, knows that every point of view has some truth and understands Christ as the Cosmic Christ who “interpenetrates” reality.  “I think more than 50 percent of the people in this room are already living at [this level],” Sweeney said. “I think this is the new frontier for women religious, to be part of the tipping point.” She said the mission for women religious today is to foster the evolution of love.

“This is the new frontier for women religious, to be part of the tipping point.  The mission for women religious today is to foster the evolution of love.”

Sweeney reminded participants that in order for contemplative dialogue and communal discernment to be successful, it first needs to be cultivated “in the culture of we.” Dialogue, creative thinking, mutual respect, reference, listening are all hallmarks of the culture necessary, she said. “It is so, so important — if we’re ever going to be able to do communal discernment is that we weave ‘the culture of we’ — and don’t move on when that is not in harmony,” she said. “When there’s not a coherence among us it’s a signal that we have to stop and work at that coherence.”

“We are evolving as individuals and as communities,” she said. “Individuals cannot evolve by themselves. We need to evolve as a community to make a difference in the world.”

This excerpt is from the Global Sisters Report.

This post was written by Marie Venner

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