Communities Face ‘Final Eruption’ and beyond

This article excerpt is reprinted with permission by Global Sisters Report. Original story is by Soli Salgado, titled “Sr. Teresa Maya challenges LCWR assembly to go forth amid changing times”.

In early August, Sisters Sandra Shannon, Gayle Desarmia and Frances O’Brien attended the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) assembly in St. Louis, Missouri. The guiding theme of the assembly was “Being the Presence of Love: The Power of Communion.” 

In her Presidential address, Sister of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Teresa Maya, expressed that lessons for religious life lie in volcanoes. Maya’s friend told her that following the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, bright wildflowers, some of which not previously seen by locals, gradually bloomed amid the ash. 

Religious life is living close to “a final eruption that will wipe out what we have come to know, struggle with and love about this life — everything,” Maya said. “How ready are we, really?”

Communities are facing funerals, ministry changes, dealing with property, and arranging for care of their members. “Some days, I wonder: Is this our principal call as leaders of religious institutes at this time?”

Holding a blue-green glass egg made from the ash of Mount St. Helens, she told the audience: “We did everything we were supposed to do by taking the [Second Vatican Council] renewal to heart. … We have been faithful women. This same faith will allow us to look beyond the ashes to the color that they make possible.”

[Sister Frances O’Brien] said in an interview after the address that the imagery of a final eruption did not distress her, but instead made her think, “It’s going out with a bang.”

The Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul of Kingston, Ontario, have been doing the difficult work of preparing for completion for four years, she said. The process “has brought us much closer together in communion. We are facing this reality that is beyond our control except that we can plan to navigate it well together,” O’Brien said. “I think that’s one of our wildflowers.”

The community response to the recent hurricanes and earthquakes in Texas, Puerto Rico and Mexico is a testament that nature is challenging the very concept of individualism, Maya said. Fortunately for women religious, community is “what we do best.”

“There is nothing more important, more radical, more necessary for us than to lean into our apostolic call to nurture and foster community wherever we find it, wherever we are, with whatever means we have.”

“Hope is the gift of communion,” she said, posing questions for assembly participants to reflect upon. “Leadership must vision beyond the preparation for the final eruption. We need to point to the wildflowers already showing up among us.”

If women religious stay faithful to what the Spirit is asking, “then we will be ready for what comes,” Mercy  Sr. Pat Whalen said, reflecting on Maya’s references to wildflowers.

Sisters must “listen to one another, to what the voices of society are saying to us,” she said. “Out of the darkness and ashes came this beautiful field of colorful flowers, and certainly that’s a message of hope and life for our future.”

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