In Western New York we do no start school until after Labor Day. Grateful that Labor Day is late this year I sit at my desk skimming through my lessons from last year. A sigh escapes as I think; do I have enough energy, patience, and love to embrace this school year? Do I have anything to offer these inner city middle school girls? Their reality is so different from the way I grew up.
I look down at my desk and see one of my favorite lessons and smile. The lesson is on Charism. I have the students research the charisms of three different religious orders, and have them write a few things the sisters do that highlight each community’s charism. My favorite part is the end of the lesson when I ask them to write their own charism. I ask them, how does God’s love in their life enable them to be good to others? Last year, when asked to define charism, a student wrote “charism is a big fancy word that means the way you are following the path of God.”
Still sitting at my desk my mind starts to wander from the task of planning lessons. I think about my trip to Ireland in May, where I was able to experience the charism of the Sisters of Mercy right where it started. I walked the streets of Dublin just as our foundress Catherine McAuley did. I visited the house she lived in before she was a Sister of Mercy, a house where she welcomed others and cared for the poorest of the poor. I left Ireland thinking, do I embody the spirit of Catherine?
My experience at the Giving Voice Conference in August helped me to answer this question. At this conference I was privileged to be with seventy women who, each in their own way, live out the charisms of their congregations. Conversations throughout the weekend gave me a glimpse of how my peers are living their charisms, each one “following the path of God.” Each of us has our own charism inside of us. If we were asked to write our own charism in middle school, we would probably find some of the same themes present in the way we are living our lives out today.
The wonderfully diverse number of congregations allows each of us to follow the path God has for us. Giving Voice provides a space for us to share our lives, to dream together and to support each other. What each of us brings to the conversation is our desire to do what our foundresses and founders did, to live our lives with God at the center.
At the conference, Teresa Mya, and Sophia challenged us to live our lives in the present. Since returning home from Kansas I have been asking myself how I am living my life in the present that reflects the spirit of my community. How do I let my voice be heard among a majority age cohort of women religious that I am not a part of? I am reminded that our founders and foundresses were often called upon to be the minority voice, to speak up and change the current reality. With so much focus on the future of religious life, I often forget that right here and now is what will lead us into the future. What we do every day in our congregations will, with God at the center, carry us into the unknown future.