I walked into an auditorium filled with sisters gathered to celebrate a feast day. I only knew one person in the room: the sister standing next to me, Sister Dale my vocation minister. I stuck to her like glue as we maneuvered through the crowded room greeting sisters. At first, I thought it was amazing that she seemed to know everyone so well as everyone greeted her with a hearty hug. Then, it dawned on me, Dale was not only introducing me to everyone we met, but herself as well. I was amazed that they all these sisters welcomed each other as family, even if they were meeting for the first time.
I witnessed the spirit of community embodied in the sisters time and time again. It was that spirit which drew me into Mercy, like a bee to honey. I couldn’t get enough of the feeling of belonging in the community- even new as I was- and my connection to Mercy and all the sisters only grew deeper over time.
I moved in with two wonderful sisters who welcomed me into their home of thirty years. They made room for me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We redecorated some rooms together, made changes to our routines of prayer and dinner time, and I introduced them to my collection of praise and worship music during regular faith sharing. They supported me through my first few years and, as I learned how to live as a sister, we shared our lives together and grew to be wonderful friends. It was their welcoming spirit of community, patience, and wisdom that made my first home in Mercy a fruitful one.
Most of the places I have lived have been wonderfully supportive communities who have welcomed and embraced all that I am. However, there is a joke in religious life: What is the best thing about religious life? Community. And the hardest thing? Community.
Unfortunately, I have also experienced home communities where there was more conflict than peace, more inflexibility than freedom. If living in community risks being thrust into unpleasant or unhealthy relationships that carry the potential to break us down rather than build us up, why do we do it? Why should I stay when living in community is hard, when intergenerational friendships are sometimes challenging, when I’m not sure if I can bury another sister? Sometimes, these things can be so very hard.
Jesus asked his disciples if they wanted to leave when his way became hard, and with them I respond, ‘Lord, where would I go? This is where I find the words of life.’ For me that word of life is Mercy. Mercy is the charism- the mission and the gift- I most need, to receive within myself and to share in the world. Yes, I could go it alone, but there is nowhere else that fits me like Mercy, nowhere else where I can deepen my relationship with God as freely, and nowhere else that I can as easily become my truest self.
For me, living in community is a critical part of my spiritual journey with God and with myself. I rely on the daily interaction with my sisters to support me and to challenge me to grow. Even the conflicts are moments of growth forcing me to see my shadows and notice the places where I need healing. While, conflicts are quick lessons, the gradual growth- the slow awakening of myself- has come out of the nurturing and intimate friendships between me and my sisters. The deep connections between sisters who have developed a genuine love for one another, a love grounded in our shared vows and charism, are the places where I can see God, where I can see Love, where I can see myself as Mercy.