Sisters Anne Harvey, Mary Beth Moore, Judith Park and Margaret Coppenrath reflect on the Chapter Statement that shapes the vision of our Congregation for the next six years.
Our Chapter Statement – A Personal Reflection
by Sister Anne Harvey
No doubt each of us is internalizing our Chapter Statement in a unique way because each of us is a unique bearer of the Love Energy it holds. Given this diversity, I believe our communal understanding and response will be enriched as we share with one another what it means to us and how it is speaking to us. What I offer here is my own view and a small piece of a large mosaic.
I have found that my experience of our October 2020 Chapter lives on in the Statement. Probably because I underestimated the power of the Spirit that could come through a Zoom event, the sense of communion I felt with my Sisters at that time was beyond my expectation. Now when I attend to the Statement, I sense again the depth of Spirit that unites us and urges us forward in our mission of loving service. In it I also hear the Spirit’s answer to the Chapter Prayer we used throughout the many months of preparation; we received what we asked for.
For the sake of clarity, let me state that I see our Chapter Statement as having ten points: four introductory lines and six commitments, each of which is worthy of an essay or article.
I understand the first four lines as a description of our identity, of WHO we are and are called to be in the world today. I see them as a current abbreviated version of our Constitutions, highlighting essential aspects of our vocation and spirituality in this day and age.
Lines 1 and 2 speak of our most basic ‘forever’ identity, acknowledging the evolving Love Energy of the cosmos as the source of all we are and do, and stating clearly our raison d’être, “to hear the cries of those who are poor”.
Lines 3 and 4 speak of two aspects of our fundamental Christian identity that we especially need to tend as our physical energies wane and challenges loom larger: embracing our vulnerability and trusting the presence and power of the Spirit.
Together these four lines echo core elements of our Constitutions: We share the gift of a call (C1) to render every service in our power to Christ in the persons of the poor (C 2); with the gifts and limitations of our human condition, we entrust ourselves to the One who calls (C 10) and walk in God’s Presence all the days of our life (C 48).
I think of these four lines as the refrain of our song to which we continually return as we strive to implement our commitments, or the springboard on which we stand to get our footing and spring into action. Together they draw us into our timeless identity of being in Love and urged forward from that wondrous reality. They also invite us to claim and trust the power of the resurrection at work in and among us, and in the world, no matter what our age and capacities.
The next five statements spell out WHAT we are called to do now, in the world of 2020, to embody the love of God and respond to the cries of those who are poor. They speak of our goals and state the specific actions we intend to take in light of the signs of the times: deepen our sense of interconnectedness with all beings, address the climate crisis, counter the evil of racism in ourselves and in structures, live more simply and plan our future realistically. I see them as a contemporary articulation of our rule of life as expressed in C 43: Corporately and individually we strive to develop a sensitivity toward those whom the world oppresses, to right injustices, to heal wounds, to speak peace, to urge the mighty to right wrongs…, and C 45: … to respond with courage and generosity to ways in which the Spirit leads us.
The last line of our Statement builds on our experience of contemplative conversation as an effective way of growing together, and says HOW we will proceed in determining future actions related to our goals.
As has been the case in the past, our Chapter Statement will shape my journey in the next six years. My contemplative self would rest in the first four lines, which I think of as “a cauldron of transformation” or the place of surrender to God’s creative action. There I want to become attuned to the frequency of Love. I know that steeping myself in the truths they hold will inevitably move me outwards and enhance the effectiveness of my efforts to advance each commitment.
Finally, I want to make a connection between the first and last lines of our Statement. When we affirm “Love and energized by the One who calls”, I hear us testifying to one another and to all, “Yes, we know this, not just as a statement of faith but as our lived experience as Sisters of Charity and Associates”. The last line calls us to use a contemplative conversation process in living out the commitments we have made. My deepest hope is that as we move forward together we will experience anew the love and energy of the One who calls in all our interactions, through our openness and careful listening to one another, our sharing from the heart with trust, our care and loving support. In this way we will live out our communal imperative to “cherish and respect one another as true sisters whom Our Lord has united in his service.” (C 32)
The Cries of Our Sisters and Brothers Living in Poverty
by Sister Mary Beth Moore
“Like [the Good Samaritan] we need only have a pure and simple desire to be a people, a community constant and tireless in the effort to include, integrate and lift up the fallen.” Pope Francis Tutti Fratelli, #77
That is complex, say the experts.
Perhaps is it simple:
Create the conditions so that all human beings may have:
A loving home
A good education
Good health care
A secure dwelling.
Lack any one of these human goods and you are poor.
Possess them all, and you are rich.
The idea that there is not enough is a lie.
But simple does not mean easy.
Responding to the cries of the fallen
requires that we act in community.
Anyone who tries to face injustice alone soon gives up,
or becomes cynical and angry.
“Solidarity means much more than sporadic acts of generosity.
It means thinking and acting in terms of community. It means that the lives of all are prior to the appropriation of goods by a few. It also means combatting the structural causes of poverty…It means confronting the empire of money.” Pope Francis, Tutti Frattelli. #116
Out of the “pure and simple desire to be a people” comes solidarity.
A beautiful word, that carries within it
the sense of struggling together as equals,
each one bringing gifts and vulnerabilities to the work for justice.
In Spanish it’s la lucha, the struggle, a single shared work, difficult but life-giving, woven together of many many meetings, frustrations and joys,
And of course, celebration:
music, laughter, delicious food, wine and dancing.
There will always be cries on this earth
Rich and poor alike know sickness, tragedy,
betrayal, error, earthquakes, floods, fires.
And the mystery at the heart of innocent suffering. Why?
Maybe eliminating poverty can never be a master plan
Maybe the work is more like a quilt in progress where
each one brings their patch–solid, striped, polka dot, paisley
and sews it ever so slowly to the whole.
Let each one, architect and aviator, barber and babysitter,
Caterer, caretaker, doctor, dishwasher.
(you see where we’re going with this… )
Join the community
And learn how choices of their daily round connect to the grand project.
Let each one look deeply within
To nurture that “pure and simple desire to be a people…”
Asking not only, “What more must I do? “
But also, “Who must I become?”
by Sister Judith Park
“What do we do with so great a love?” We sang that over and over during General Chapter 2020 and it became a doorway leading us day by day toward our Chapter Statement. Among other things we said we commit ourselves to:
“Engage in a process that seeks to enter into the woundedness and pain suffered by persons affected by racism and address systemic racism which includes an acknowledgement of our own white privilege.”
We are, like the lens of a very good camera, zooming in on an insidious wound that seems to be festering and erupting with great intensity. We have chosen to find our way together in addressing systemic racism and to do so in such a way that we seek to understand the real suffering that racism inflicts on real people. We are committing ourselves to education, awareness, empathy, soul searching, relationship and action.
We know that racism is the marginalization and/or oppression of people of colour based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar says this: “Racism … is like dust in the air. It seems invisible – even if you’re choking on it – until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere.”
Our statement specifically highlights white privilege. While white privilege does not pertain to every Sister and Associate, we do need to explore how it is operative in our society, and in our own lives. Until those of us who are white, clearly see and own how we enjoy certain privileges denied to persons of colour, we cannot be part of the dismantling of racism.
One small example of white privilege is that I don’t have to worry about being followed in a store to see if I am going to steal something. It is an acknowledgement of the fact that the world “works” better for whites than for people of colour.
When the world watched George Floyd being murdered on television, a collective gasp of horror issued from us. Endless marches ensued – as did arrests – plenty of them. Plastic handcuffs on brown and black wrists. Not so when the Capitol building in Washington, DC was stormed by an angry white mob. In fact, these men and women were free to go home to sleep in their own beds. No jail cells, no plastic cuffs. No one missed the fact that this group, who clearly broke the law and intended harm, were treated far more leniently than those who marched in the Black Lives Matter protests – which were primarily peaceful. It was as if a searchlight found and followed white privilege and displayed it for all to see. This discrimination was lost on no one.
Black theologian James H. Cone said: “It is amazing that racism could be so prevalent and violent in American life and yet so absent in white theological discourse.”
We have to ask ourselves … why is this so? For people espousing a gospel mandate to love one another, why does this major sin find so little space in our theology books, so little space in our lives?
We realize today that Blacks, Latino and Indigenous peoples are the vast majority of those infected and killed by COVID-19. Why? We know why … lack of insurance, less access to adequate health care, overcrowded and unsafe housing, unsanitary working conditions, which adds up to systemic poverty and systemic racism.
We need to truly hear what life is like for people of colour. Many of our Sisters in Canada have engaged in listening to First Nation Peoples in Truth and Reconciliation circles. It is hard to listen to another’s pain, especially when we have been the cause of some of it – even unwittingly – even by just being a member of the dominant class. But they listened and in listening, accompanied.
My twenty-two-year-old nephew Joe is a great young man. I love him to bits. I know him well, but I will never know what it is like to be called the “n” word or to be stopped for driving while Black. Joe knows this too well. Every time I saw the police officer with his knee on George Floyd’s neck – it was Joe’s face I saw. Agonizing.
When I was 19 and going into my sophomore year in college, I chose to live at school instead of commuting. I put in for a roommate and got called to the office of the Dean of Students. I was asked if I knew a classmate named Trudi. I did. She was in my gym class. I was asked if I would be willing to room with her. I said yes – but was she willing to room with me? Silence. A vacant stare. The blank look let me know that she wasn’t going to be asked the same question. Trudi was Black. White privilege meant I had a choice. She didn’t. That was a moment in my life I won’t forget. It seemed so wrong. Looking back, I was flummoxed by the inequity of the question. She never knew. Looking back, I wish I pushed for her to be asked the same question.
We were fortunate to have conversations about race in the context of a safe and easy relationship. We learned so much from each other. I loved her heart. Hearing and seeing her struggles changed me. But I will never know what it is like to be a Black woman.
Nor will I know what it is like to give birth, or be a police officer or a nurse in a hospital during this time of COVID-19. But I can/we can get up close to people who have these experiences and listen and become aware – a necessary step towards empathy. Does any important action for others happen without it?
So many of us have had the advantage of working with people of colour. It pains us when we see how systemic racism brings emotional and bodily harm, time and time again. We in our Chapter Statement have said, now is the time to speak up, to act, to be the gospel women we profess to be. Perhaps we might ask ourselves and one another questions like:
In what ways do I see my thoughts/actions/language as racist?
Why is race so hard to talk about?
How does race shape our lives?
How do we respond when someone makes a racist comment?
In what ways are we complicit in our failure to act?
And so on.
Pope Francis, lamenting the death of George Floyd said: “We cannot turn a blind eye to racism and claim that we are defending the sacredness of human life.”
Might we take that challenge to our personal prayer and see where it leads us?
*The July 24, 2017 issue of YES! Magazine has an article:
“10 Examples that Prove White Privilege exists in Every Aspect Imaginable.”
Climate Crisis: Our Commitment
by Sister Margaret Coppenrath
“Climate change may be the most significant challenge the world faces today. It will affect everyone, regardless of geographical location or socioeconomic status. It may determine the way we produce food, our access to water, our health, where we live, and the diversity of plant and animal species. No other current concern can claim the scale of climate change – and the scope of the potential catastrophe if the world fails to act in time.”
Climate Justice for a Changing Planet: A Primer for Policy Makers and NGOs. (United Nations, 2009)
Now, it is 2021. Daily, scientists sound the alarm bells. Even though our news gives witness to the effects of climate change in all parts of our shared Earth-home, apparently the ears of most cannot quite get the meaning of “potential catastrophe.” A failure of imagination?!
Effects of climate change
We are witnessing devastating droughts, recurrent storms and wildfires that wreak havoc on the land and crops, loss of species, habitats, our homes and livelihoods, forcing millions to become climate and environmental refugees. Climate change hits the poorest the hardest.
The melting of the ice at the poles is threatening the Earth’s most important cooling system. We are tampering with major global processes which help to keep the oceans’ temperature balanced and viable for life. The volume of Arctic ice has decreased 75% in the last 40 years. Rising sea levels have the potential to wipe out low lying island nations and coastal areas around the Earth.
The Earth is warming. It is warmer than it has been in the past 10,000 years. The majority of scientists agree that the rising level of greenhouse gases (CO2, methane and nitrous oxide) in collusion with human activity is bringing us to a possible tipping point altering life on Earth forever. Prior to this (4.5 billion years ago) we would be looking at some action on the part of the Earth herself to cause such devastation. This time it isn’t a meteor or an Ice Age. We are the culprits and our Western lifestyle is abetting our crimes.
We are being called
So, what does this have to do with our 2020 Congregational Chapter Statement and our calling as Sisters of Charity? The message of John 10:10 “I came that they might have life and have it to the full” has always been our apostolic mantra. In years past, our focus was directed toward our students, our patients, our parishioners, our clients, and those in our community setting. Today, we are being called to respond to the needs of the Earth evidenced by climate change.
We avow in our Chapter Statement that we will commit “to participate in on-going learning, conversion and discernment of actions we will take to address the climate crisis.” As we say these words, we are acknowledging that we do have much to learn about our 4.5 billion-year-old Earth: her history, her interconnected and sacred evolving systems of life.
Called to what?
You cannot love what you do not know. For many of us, the Earth has been a mere backdrop behind all our human endeavours. So we definitely are in need of a conversion of heart to help us evolve to a new way of being on this planet “…The ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion.” (Laudato Si’ #217)
And, we need the wisdom found in discernment. A change in our beliefs (theology) and consciousness will lead to a desire to change the way we live and are. On-going learning will open our eyes and give us the courage to take the positive steps that will make a difference … to help the Earth and all creation flourish, “so that all may have life and have it to the full.”
Thankfully, there are many action groups staffed by committed young people who are leading the way. The Earth has been waiting a long time for us to wake up. But will we? “It takes so many thousand years to wake, But will you wake, for pity’s sake?” (The Sleep of Prisoners, Christopher Fry)