Hopeful about Religious Life

Recently I attended the National Religious Vocation Conference 2020 Virtual Convocation. Members of the Felician formation team were able to invite guests, and I was one of them. Guests at the NRVC Convocation receive a grant to attend if they fulfill several requirements. One of them is to write a brief essay about being hopeful in religious life. This is in response to the theme of the convocation, 2020 Vision: Focus on Hope. The branded statement that repeated throughout the convocation was “I believe God is still calling women and men to holiness — and I am filled with abundant hope.”

There were several prompts to choose from. The one I chose was:  What makes you hopeful about religious life amid the changing demographics?

In one of the talks, the speaker described hope as springing from our roots. Returning to those roots reminds us of all our reasons for hope. They were the source of hope from the beginning of my journey and still is. I feel deeply God’s call for me, my vocation to live in union with Him. God’s personal love for me drew me to religious life and continues to inspire and guide me. I felt set apart for God. Centering on Him in prayer and contemplation, finding Him in the present moment, leaves me rooted in a personal hope that keeps me moving forward. It keeps me zealous to move forward, despite obstacles and personal difficulties. For me, God is a God of the journey, who accompanies me.

Each year, as part of my annual retreat, I reflect on my roots. I recall why I became a Franciscan and a sister and am blessed by the life-giving hope of the grace of God again and still. When I reflect on why I choose it now, I realize that my reasons are similar, yet deeper. My roots go further into the soil as I grow, supporting the growth. I find unlimited hope in my personal growth. Since I’ve been in community, I’ve been growing in needed ways, becoming more wholistic and complete. Looking back, I can see personal development that religious life and community life bring out in me, and I am encouraged by who I’ve become and who I’m becoming.

I also experience a personal call through the Catholic Church. When I was in college, discerning my path in life, starting out in the world, I was confused and discouraged. The world seemed limited and disappointing. I found solace at Mass, and in churches in general. I would listen to the prayers, the readings, the intentions, and find inspiration and hope. When the prayer intention was for those called to religious life, there was an internal spark of recognition, and I would ask God if it was an invitation to me. I read Church documents and papal encyclicals in search of answers and find inspiration, beautiful ideals that I aspired to. More than that, they seemed possible with God. I realized that God wasn’t limited, and that his loving power is at work in the world. There was, then, unlimited potential for goodness in the world, and in me. I could be better, holier, more loving… more. Because of God working through the Catholic Church.

I’m encouraged and inspired by our rich history as a Congregation, the way we live our charism today, and our openness to the Holy Spirit’s guidance into the future. I find hope in our past, the patrimony of our charism and values. The sisters who came before me are truly the shoulders I’m standing on. The wisdom of our elders and the graces of our past are the foundation I build upon. The witness of our lives is even more powerful. The love and acceptance we have for each other is a sign to others of what is possible for the world, with God at the center of our lives. It’s also a reminder that who we are is primary, to others and to God. The values we embrace and the virtues we take to heart become a key part of who we are and what we bring into our relationships with others. This manifests itself in our actions, but it is more about being than doing.

The relationships I’ve built with sisters, true companions on the journey, supports and fosters my hope for the world and humanity. It makes the world a better place. From the beginning, the charity of our sisters in living our mission in response to the signs of the time has inspired me. Together we can do so much! When we respond to the signs of the times, giving freely where we are needed, both the world and the community are blessed for it. We move into the future together, our hearts open to the needs of the world and to our sisters. As we move forward, our family of sisters expands to include other religious communities. By coming together in ministry and relationship, we sisters better live our mission and strengthen our witness of being sister. Participating in organizations that bring together different communities help us accomplish this. Together, we also discern the signs of the times and how to respond to the needs of the world.

I have found so much hope in God’s call for me and in religious life! I see it in myself, the Felician community, and the ways religious communities are coming together to make the kingdom come. It’s also evident in how our compassion affects the world, the real difference we make through the witness of our lives and our outreach to a suffering world.