David E. Rosage’s book of the same title was one of the first books that I was given when I became a Pre-Novice with the Sisters of Instruction of the Child Jesus (sej) in Coquitlam, British Columbia, nearly 3 years ago. In the foreword, Monsignor Rosage writes, “These [the book’s] thoughts should facilitate making the transition from the busy workday world into a quiet, receptive attitude of listening to God with one’s whole being. They should also motivate one to become totally available to the Lord”.
I have been listening to God in my life for over 40 years. Now, if you were to ask me if after listening to God, I responded to His invitations and the Spirit’s promptings, I’d be lying to you if I told you that I did. I grapple with God – a lot. Case in point, I’ll be 47 years old next month and I am a Novice! Yes, I know, better late than never!
When I was asked to contribute to the blog, I wasn’t sure what I could possibly offer on the topic of “hope”. It’s a broad subject and some days God and I discuss at length whether or not my timing to enter religious life is right. I’ve been told as I am sure many of you have too, that religious life in Canada is declining. Actually the exact word that was used was “dead”. Religious life in Canada is dead. And yet here I am. Why?
Tongue and cheek humour aside, I am here because God is ever faithful. If you haven’t read it, the Hound of Heaven by the English poet Francis Thompson is a classic. Religious life is not dead because God is not dead. Sorry Nietzsche but you and I will have to agree to disagree. Religious life is evolving and changing because the world is evolving and changing. In her book, Religious Life For Our World: Creating Communities of Hope, Maria Cimperman, RSCJ writes, “A great transformation is being asked of religious life, but not without the lead and accompaniment of the Spirit. Religious must use their religious imagination, guided by the Spirit, to see beyond numbers. Religious life is being asked to connect more globally and is being given numerous opportunities for global connections. Agility, adaptability, openness, clear communication, collaboration, and a deep, contemplative, reflective spirit are essential” (pg. 21).
I am not sure if I have mentioned this before, but there is a 30-plus year age difference between myself and the next youngest sister in my congregation here in Canada and I am their only Novice. When I wrote my letter to ask to begin my Novitiate, the sisters in Canada discerned. Our Generalate in France discerned and the six other countries where our sisters serve in ministry also discerned. A global pandemic made it impossible for me to join and journey with the other “younger” women in our congregation in formation in Chile where a Novitiate community existed. Instead, I remained in Canada and while I didn’t initially recognize it as a blessing, it has most certainly turned out to be one.
Like our foundress, Anne-Marie Martel, I have been invited to follow the Spirit into newness. For my congregation, it has meant reimagining what the formation of a Sister of the Child Jesus looks like. It has required responding creatively, collaboratively and faithfully in the face of uncertainty – aging sisters and a mission in Canada described as nearing completion a.k.a “dying”. But dying we are not! The Spirit is constantly at work – inspiring and guiding.
I have heard it said that Nuns don’t retire, they simply get re-treaded and my Directress has clocked some serious mileage! Instead of sailing off into the sunset, the Sisters of the Child Jesus in Canada have chosen to set sail in a new direction, Novice on board, trusting that if and when we encounter rough waters, Jesus will be there to do His part, as He always has. And here is where I find my hope in and for religious life; in the companionship of empowerment. I may be the only Novice in Canada in my congregation, but I am not alone; far from it! I have been blessed by my congregation’s openness to a kind of formation that has been intercultural and inter-congregational. As I share this reflection on “hope” with you, I am profoundly grateful for the “yeses” of 17 Sisters of the Child Jesus in Canada, who without realizing it, have taught me the art of deep listening and courageously following God into the future.
Blog post by Heather Charest, Sisters of Instruction of the Child Jesus (sej)