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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Standing at a New Edge

New Edge

The following Sunday reflection was given by Ellen Dauwer, SC, at the opening weekend of her congregational assembly (chapter). She is a member of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth (Convent Station, NJ).

What perfect readings we have for today: the first Sunday of Lent! In the gospel we hear that Jesus is led into the desert for 40 days; we, too, are at the start of our 40 days of Lenten journey in the desert.

I'd like to focus on Jesus’ three Temptations in the desert and look at them as a whole, rather than parse them out. And I'd like to suggest that in them Jesus was tempted to be someone other than who he was called to be.

Let's situate today's gospel reading from the beginning of Chapter 4 of Luke. Just prior to it is the Baptism of Jesus and his genealogy. Both of these ground Jesus: his family tree and his baptismal call. In the text following today's gospel, Jesus begins his preaching/healing ministry and we hear the words of our mission statement: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Luke 4:18-19. So we see that the temptations of Jesus follow his baptism and genealogy and precede the start of his public ministry.

In today's Gospel Jesus is tempted by the devil to acquire possessions, power, and glory. He is tempted to be filled by things that do not satisfy, to reign over kingdoms and nations, and to acquire superhuman powers. All of these are not who Jesus is called to be as an itinerant preacher, reliant on the power of the Spirit.

We, too, are tempted at times to be other than who we are called to be. This is sometimes summed up in the saying: “the grass is always greener on the other side.” Each of us is called by God to life, to religious life as a Sister of Charity, to mission, and to ministry (whether retired or active). Over our lifetime this call has become clearer, although some days it is much more clear than others. Our parents and grandparents responded to our baptismal call for us until we grew into it through adolescence and adulthood. At some point each of us responded even more fully to God's call when we committed our lives to God as Sisters of Charity. We continue to grow into that call no matter where we are on the age spectrum. This call has borne fruit and has taken flesh in the students we've taught, the patients we've nursed, the lives we've touched, the needs we've met, the charity we've shared, and the justice we've enabled.

Some days, though, the grass on the other side does seem to be greener. For example, when I walk the boardwalk at Harvey and look out at the beautiful homes on the bay I wonder what life is like within them. Some days, sometimes, in some periods of life we’re tempted to be someone else – to be satisfied by stones rather than bread, to reign over others, to be powerful, to be important, to work miracles. Sometimes it is easier to want to be someone else, to want to be somewhere else than to be ourselves in the here and now, in our own reality responding to the call of God in our lives. The gospel today reminds us to stay rooted in God's call to us and to respond fully.

Expanding the circle… just as we are tempted as individuals, we can also be tempted as a group. Organizations that want to be or to do something other than what they're called to be or do, suffer from what is called “mission creep”. For example, if an organization dedicated to the elimination of world hunger decided to take on the issue of water and then migration and then… its original mission would gradually erode. Mission creep means that the original mission is diluted by other areas that creep into it, areas other than its core mission because sometimes the grass is greener elsewhere. Every organization has to ask… Is this our mission? Is this ours to do? Do we have the human and material resources to do this? Or is it for someone else? Otherwise we are stretched so thin or wander so far that we lose our way and there's nothing left at the core. We need to return over and over to our mission statement, to our core and to discern each call that comes our way.

So here we are as Sisters of Charity, standing at a new edge – a journey often marked in four-year spans of time as we reflect deeply on our mission, listen to the needs, and discern our response. Who are we called to be as Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth at this time?

Sometimes the grass is greener elsewhere for us as a Congregation, too. We might wish to be somewhere else, sometime else. We might yearn for the days of the past when things were more stable and the mission appeared to be lived out more clearly. We might wish we had 1000 members spanning all ages from the 20s to the 90s. We might wish we had hospitals and academies and lots of people to staff them. We might wish we had inquirers, candidates, and novices as well. Yet this is who we are: this is where we are (not at Xavier Center) and this is our time. In our Lenten desert we are faced with our reality, the poverty of it, and the gifts within it.

We can easily enumerate the poverty of this time but do we also ponder the gifts of it? For example, many rich and fruitful collaborations are being forged these days by our congregation, our Federation, and many congregations and organizations that further our missions. This is especially evident in the newest members of religious congregations who speak of a global sisterhood and are beginning to explore what a common charism of religious life might look like.

How will we respond to God's call this Lent, as individuals and as a congregation? How will we proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind? “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, “Jesus exclaimed in today's Gospel. Let us look deeply at the ground beneath our feet, the companions with whom we share life, and the mission we're called to live. Let us rejoice as God calls us to life, to love, and to mission now and into the future.

RFC

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