Sr. Mary Gabriel, SV, Vocations Director for the Sisters of Life, sent me her discernment meditation for this month (below) as well as the above picture of their 12 new postulants including our son's Godmother, Stephanie (too bad they're not attracting any young women to their order - and the ones they did attract look so sad - it's a shame).
On the last World Day of Consecrated Life Pope Benedict XVI reminded those who follow Jesus in living the evangelical counsels that, "in choosing Christ we let ourselves by ‘conquered’ by Him without reserve…"
The word ‘conquer’ means "to take possession by force." We don’t tend to think of Jesus as ‘conquering’ because He comes as a Lamb and not as a wolf. We don’t tend to think of the Holy Spirit of Jesus as ‘possessing’ us because Jesus does not enslave us but sets us free. The force Jesus uses to conquer is the force of His love. Jesus desires that we allow His love to conquer and take possession of each of us - the whole of our person - that we might know and participate in His salvation; that we might be sons and daughters of the Most High God, able to love and forgive and live as He does.
The Scriptural passage we use in reference to vocations and to our charism is "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." But this isn’t the whole of the passage. As a whole, Jn 10:10 reads, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." When we allow Jesus to come into our hearts to give us abundant life, He must "break into" the personal and intimate dimensions of our lives. While a thief does such "only to steal and kill and destroy" Jesus does so to give us life and to give it to us abundantly. Jesus conquers with His Love. Nevertheless, with Jesus there is an experience of a "taking" from us, which can be uncomfortable, especially in the beginning when we only know the harshness of the world’s taking and do not yet know the peace and joy that come from "losing our lives" for the sake of Jesus. As the Lord leads us closer to Him, it isn’t unusual to experience moments of trepidation that demand new depths of trust in Him. But, as Pope Benedict reminded us at World Youth Day in Cologne: "If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great… Be completely convinced of this: Christ takes from you nothing that is beautiful and great, but brings everything to perfection …"
Since the Garden of Eden it’s been difficult to totally place ourselves in the hands of another, and of the Other. But our current culture teaches us, even subconsciously, to guard our ‘lives’ - read: our wants and will - with vengeance. We daily see and hear messages about the human person that smell of violation, through pornography or cruelty or both. The images and words that spur us to ‘take’ simultaneously nail down the fear that we will be ‘taken’. It’s a recipe for a cycle of unfulfilled unhappiness. This fear is wrapped around the contraceptive industry, the abortion industry, the euthanasia industry. Aspects of life designed to invite us into beautiful mutual vulnerability have become, for some, moments of rejection of the other for the sake of self. But the fear that propels such actions isn’t just felt by those entrenched in the culture of death. "The truth is we are all very much captive to powers that anonymously manipulate us!" So says Pope Benedict in his latest book, Jesus of Nazareth. The violation of our sacred dignity begins in the historical context in which we find ourselves. It’s as if a tea bag of violation has been plopped into the hot waters of our culture and there it steeps, and we all drink of it in varying degrees. Interestingly, the thesaurus gives as an antonym to "violation" the word "consecration."
And those who are consecrated, beginning with all the baptized and more radically with religious (so all of us), are to so allow Jesus and His Spirit to conquer us, to possess us, that we become contagious, living antonyms to the violation of the human person so present in our world. Letting the Lord conquer us means giving ourselves totally to Jesus, day in and day out, even and especially when fidelity to His love demands what is difficult for us. Such a consecrated life, a conquered life, has a powerful effect on the world. For the first thing Jesus takes away from us is sin: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world…" (Eucharistic Prayer). He takes away our sins, "so vanquishing them as to rob them of any substance or reality…" (Pope Benedict XVI). And in place of our sins, He gives us Himself, His Holy Spirit. As His Spirit frees us, strengthens us, lifts us up, so His Spirit in us offers a whiff of fresh air to those otherwise choking in the smog of sin. The more deeply we live our consecration, whether baptismal or religious, the more powerful a purifier we become - the more our very presence (actually Jesus’ presence in us) can draw others and help others to experience restoration and renewal (new life) where sin and darkness have violated their dignity and sown death.
We pray and trust our consecrated religious lives as Sisters of Life has just such effect! And now we have a new city and country in which to let the Holy Spirit conquer through us! At the end of August, three of our Sisters, Sr. Antoniana Maria, Sr. Monica Faustina and Sr. Mary Clare, became pioneers in our community when they were missioned to our first International foundation in Toronto, Canada. As they departed from our hub here in New York, I was reminded of the millions of courageous and generous religious throughout the history of the Church (even until the middle of last century), who, when following a call from the Lord, left all that was familiar to them knowing that they would never see their friends and family again on earth. Many of these brave lovers of Christ went to meet their martyrdom. How so many of these, now in Heaven, must be cheering our Sisters on as they follow what is deepest in all of our hearts: to be missionaries of the Lord of Life and Love to the ends of the earth, giving everything to Jesus and not counting the cost! May each of us allow Jesus’ love to so conquer us that we joyfully offer our lives, in whatever way He calls us, for His glory, our joy and for the salvation of souls!
In the midst of the announcement and preparation for this new mission, our community was blessed with the awesome gifts of still other members diving to deeper depths in their own response to Christ’s love. Only in the context of His love do we have the courage and joy to live radically for Him. In June, four new novices (Sr. Joan Marie, Sr. Maris Stella, Sr. Brigid Ancilla Marie and Sr. Mary Aquinas) were invested in the habit of the Sisters of Life. The more we allow the Holy Spirit, the Love of God, to quench our thirst, the more our thirst for Him increases until nothing can satisfy but Him alone. In the beginning of August, four of our Sisters professed perpetual vows (Sr. Rita Marie, Sr. Veronica Mary, Sr. Bridget of Jesus and Sr. Mary Gabriel) and two professed first vows (Sr. Bernadette Maria Pieta and Sr. Maria Emmanuel). And, just two weeks ago, 12 young women entered our community as postulants: Beth Burwell, Laura Dierschke, Therese Dorobek, Mary Germann, Sandra McIver, Maria Pereyra, Stephanie Ray, Kelly Schulz, Leslee Simms, Jennifer Swan, Jen Takach and Rachel Yates. How blessed we are by the love Jesus has poured into their hearts! May they become saints for Him, fountains of new life in the world. Please pray for them as they live their fiat. Following the Lord, loving the Lord, is awesome, but it is demanding. Jesus takes away our sins, but He also desires to take away whatever might keep us from loving Him alone and above all else. Do not be afraid to let Him into every corner of your being, to follow Him in your thoughts, words, actions and with your life. For, while a thief comes "only to steal and kill and destroy" Jesus comes "to give life and to give it abundantly." And what a Life He gives! May His Name be praised.
"… whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his
sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead." (Phil. 3: 7-11)
Please let us know if you would like to attend our next Come & See Retreat: Nov 8-11, 2007 at Villa Maria Guadalupe!