I think we all know that this is a particularly crucial time that requires courageous conversations and meaningful and hopeful actions for the future. I'm not just thinking of religious life, but also about the general state of our natural environment and the long standing conflicts which seem close to the breaking point.
We do also stand at a crucial time in religious life. Within the next decade or two we will experience rapid demographic change and a radical shift in the scale of vowed religious life in North America. While the core of our charisms and missions will stay the same, I suspect the new ways we are called to engage the critical needs of our human and earth community wil surprise, delight, and challenge us. The "who" of religious life will also reflect the marvelous diversity of our church. One interesting tidbit I've been taking to prayer of late, after reading New Generations of Catholic Sisters: The Challenge of Diversity, is that while more than 90% of perpetually professed Sisters are white, more than 40% of women presently in initial formation are women of color! I find that statistic energizing for pondering the future as well as looking at our present with new eyes.
I recently heard one of the book's authors, Mary Johnson, SNDdeN, speak in Chicago. She highlighted another statistic worth reflecting upon. While Sisters over 70 are by far the dominant cohort in religious life, less than 10% of the U.S. adult Catholic population is over 70. There is a counterpart statistic which might surprise you even more. Did you know that the majority of adult U.S. Catholics are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s? By contrast, this demographic, which coincides with the age of Giving Voice Sisters, is presently a distinct minority in religious life.
Perhaps the Spirit is inviting us, during this crucial time, to hold in creative tension several realities. The world is crying out for the gifts of our charisms and courageous action, presence, and witness to the Gospel. Just think of the children at our nation's border, the dehumanization and commodification of persons through human trafficking, or the environmental impacts of human-induced climate change.
Most, if not all, of our religious communities are presently engaged in future oriented discussions as we seek to ensure that Sisters continue to be a viable hope-filled presence in our church and world. We recognize these social realities just as we engage our demographic reality and its implications for mission through communal discernment and decision making processes.
What I invite you to consider, however, is whose voices are loudest in these conversations? From where they stand, what is the far future horizon that the dominant group sees? 10 years, 15, 50? It seems to me that part of the call of this particular time is to amplify the voices of women religious in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. You might think of it as a preferential option for the young(er). It's not that our voices are the only voices that need to be heard. Rather, given our demographic reality, which is in sharp contrast to the demographic reality in the church, we need to be intentional and ensure that every voice is heard.
If you are a younger religious, I encourage you to take a risk. Speak up more at community meetings. Engage in courageous conversations with your favorite wisdom women as well as those you haven't shared with yet at a deeper level. Ask curious and challenging questions from your perspective. Take the time to complete the survey of the Giving Voice generation currently being conducted by Ted Dunn (see below). Read Melissa Camardo, SCL's reflection (also below) and consider how you witness to and share about your life as a Sister with those closest to you.
If you are part of the dominant age cohort, a member of leadership or formation personnel, perhaps you can find ways to creatively engage your younger members, to listen deeply to their experience, wisdom, and hopes for the future. Encourage your younger community members to engage in your future oriented conversations, and invite your young at heart members to listen with a curious and open heart.
When I first encountered Giving Voice as a novice, it was important for me to give voice to my own experience with my peers. This is no less true today, and the connections I've made through this network are life-giving and nurturing and help me to be my best self in community. I have noticed a shift, however, both within me and within our network. More and more, I think, we are being called to give voice not only to our experience, but also to our hopes and dreams for the good of the whole.
One last note. This e-newsletter reflection happens to be my last one as a member of the Giving Voice core team. It has been an honor and a blessing to share my gifts as part of the circle of leadership these past few years. As Leslie Keener, CDP wrote on behalf of the Core Team in an e-newsletter last year, the members of the Core Team see themselves as "sisters who are taking a turn at holding the circle, keeping track of the logistics, and trying to serve" the whole. As I take a step out of the circle of leadership back into the larger circle of GV Sisters, I know that my friends and Sisters will continue to create spaces for younger women religious to give voice to their hopes, dreams and challenges in religious life.