Religious Formation Conference

The Religious Formation Conference (RFC) is a national Roman Catholic organization serving religious institutes of women and men with programs and services for those in the ministry of initial and lifelong formation, and general congregational membership.

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Daily Bread for the Summer

Daily Bread

Daily Bread for the Summer

“Give us each day our daily bread” Luke 11:3

The work in which formators engage may appear mostly invisible as it is largely the work of inner transformation. Each year, I find that the season of summer ushers in a time to enter into this invisible yet tangible world of awareness, opportunity and change.  Besides loving the sunshine, explosive vegetation and, for the most part, the hot, sultry weather characteristic of the Ohio River Valley, I often experience summer as a time of inner growth.  I think of this time of noticing and becoming more open to opportunity as a way to savor our “daily bread”.  A way to take and receive all that life presents and use it to delve in deeper into union and communion.  As schedules slow and insights have time and space to rise (no pun intended!), this relaxed, seemingly ordinary time can lead to extraordinary transformation if we are free and yearn for (w)holiness.    

As I look back at summers of my past, some were filled with significant external transition: changes in ministry, local community, geographic location, etc.  Others came and went with few changes in lifestyle and passed by casually.  Summers with transitions were, and continue to be, obvious opportunities for transformation. However, even if not in the midst of external changes, I have always experienced summer as a time to change speed and take inventory.  This summer has proved to be no different. 

There are two consistent summer markers that help me change gears and take stock.  I consider them part of the “daily bread” of my summers.  One is having a summer birthday.  At the beginning of summer I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the bygone year and the one ahead.  Growing up, my mother teased that instead of my parents throwing a birthday party for me or my brother on our special day, it should be the other way around.  My brother and I should throw a party for our parents - to show gratitude to them and God for giving us life!  As a kid I thought my Mom was just being playful, but as I grew older I began to see the wisdom her message.  I have come to use this day to give thanks for all that has been throughout the year, to notice learnings and the movement of God, and re-establish what I commit to for ongoing transformation in the year ahead.  This year I hope to be more present when I am with others and in all that I do.    

The other significant marker is July 19th, the former feast day of St. Vincent de Paul – our patron saint.  In the past, many Sisters of Charity of Nazareth made first vows on this date.  It is still significant in our congregational culture because we celebrate the anniversaries of these sisters.  Each year on this anniversary weekend I am filled with great wonder and inspiration.  Not only do I/we remember and celebrate the commitment of love shared by women with whom we share life today, I/we embrace the power and mystery of the charism of our foundress, Catherine Spalding.  Catherine, and those who have followed for over 200 years, created and passed down the legacy of Charity to which I/we now belong.  It is in this particular way that I/we are called and participate in the reign of God.  Over and over I am amazed and astounded by God’s love and the mystery of the intersection of so many lives.  As I use this time to reflect on our charism and intersecting lives of holiness that surround me, I am impelled to enter more deeply into God so that I can become a more authentic presence and bearer of Charity in our world.  

God never fails to provide something new and challenging in the ordinariness of summer days!  In routine events great opportunity and surprises arise.  Have you ever had an experience that felt like the stars finally aligned or known the satisfaction when you just snapped that last jigsaw puzzle piece into place? It was like that for me recently.  Within the span of one week, I had two conversations that converged to call me to deeper reflection, transformation and action: one with my spiritual director and one with a member of our leadership team.  Both conversations helped me to re-evaluate presence, focus and adjusting how/when to be engaged in activities. Both conversations confirmed that it was time for me to make some changes and these changes were in harmony with the emergent promptings from my body, mind and spirit.  In the busy-ness of life it becomes more and more difficult to be fully attentive to the things we value.  Sometimes things and people become taken for granted or worse, neglected.  I/we can easily pass over the gifts of transformation that lie invisible in our “daily bread” unless we are intentional about our inner work.  I feel grateful for the two women who had these conversations with me.  They helped me tie together this summer’s opportunity and challenge for transformation: to be more present and a more authentic bearer of Charity.

So, why have I shared my own experiences of summer transformation and what does this have to do with formation ministry?  I believe most importantly, my/our own transformation must be ongoing and evolving if we are to companion others with believability and sensitivity.  It will not take long before those desiring to deepen their spiritual lives and plunge themselves fully into our charisms and congregations begin to notice that we are not engaging in the practice of self-awareness and taking opportunities for growth.  They will lose heart.  Also, we will not be able to offer our best selves and efforts to help others through the journey of transformation if we, ourselves, are too far removed from the discipline of inner work and the hidden movements that accompany it. 

We cannot do this work alone.  God’s grace provides us with “our daily” bread.  Whether spurred by external transition or from changing speed and taking inventory, opportunity for transformation is present each day.  We must have people around us who can ask us echoing questions, see things in our blind spots, have a sense of timing and gift of words and at the same time support us as challenges ebb and flow.  Formators must find and use this support whether it be through a spiritual director, other team members, supervision groups, congregational leadership or others.  We must offer this support to the newer members who are likely experiencing rapid and complex layers of transition and grappling with complex transformation matters as well.  Let’s just say that sometimes they have an abundance of “daily bread” and we can be instrumental in breaking some with them so that it is not carried alone.

To conclude, here are some questions for your personal reflection, some bread for the journey of transformation so to speak.  I hope you have a little time this summer to change your speed, take inventory and be open to transformation.  Maybe some of these questions will invite you into this time and space: How aware and free am I to take “daily bread” opportunities for transformation?   How can I become more aware of that which appears ordinary, unremarkable or happens daily and use it for growth?  What transformation am I called to as I continue on my journey of (w)holiness?  This summer, what markers are present that can help me pause and take inventory of the movement of God in my life and my response toward others? What markers help me appreciate my particular call and the gift of connectedness and how do they expand my understanding of relationship and commitment?  What surprise invitation to transformation does God have for me this summer?  How can I best use my own experiences of transformation to inform and strengthen my work as a formation director and companion to newer members?  What else about transformation are hidden in the remaining summer days?   

If you are looking for additional resources to further your reflection or ministry, visit the RFC website at relforcon.org.  There are wonderful materials and ideas available within the publications, webinar, and InFormation pages, as well as much more.  I invite you and your community members to spend a little time exploring the abundance of resources created for you.  It’s only a click away! 

Nancy Gerth, SCN
Novice/Formation Director 
Sisters of Charity of Nazareth
Louisville, KY
RFC

5401 S. Cornell Ave. Suite 304
Chicago, IL 60615
Phone: 773.675.8362
Email: rfc@relforcon.org
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