Women of prophetic hope, impelled to go out
This is the fourth ELC meeting since our 2019 General Chapter – though only the second in person. We come together at a time of immense challenges in our world. We have been troubled and bewildered by what’s been happening: climate catastrophes, war, violence and destruction, inequality and division, so much suffering in so many places. People ask: what is happening to our humanity? Where is God in it all? Our Church too has been through dark and challenging times in recent years, but hope is growing. In the midst of a world in conflict and turmoil, the Church, in recent weeks, became a sign of hope, the hope that people can sit down together, listen to one another, share their uncertainties, and reach a degree of compromise or consensus that allows change to happen. It felt to us in Rome that we were watching the dawn of a new Church, a Church more according to the mind and heart of God.
These years are very significant for us as consecrated women religious, part of a Church that is inviting all God’s people to live their full baptismal vocation, part of a Church whose face is slowly changing, whose features are becoming more open, more humble, more inclusive, more feminine, a listening, more reflective and discerning Church, a Church that goes forth and reaches out. As part of that Church, we are called and challenged to let ourselves be led by the Spirit and to go forth in mission along with lay people and other religious, in order to respond to the great needs and challenges of today.
How are we, as RSHM, interpreting the times we live in, in the light of the gospel? We are now more than mid-way between General Chapters. During these years, the vision and outcomes of our 2019 General Chapter have guided and inspired us to be ‘women of passion and compassion’, to ‘live our charism with resilience’, to ‘discern our way forward’, to ‘risk the new and the unknown’, to ‘respond to the cries of those on the margins and the earth’, to be ‘women of prophetic hope, impelled to go out to announce the Good News’.
This past year we walked the journey of the Year of Jean Gailhac, with our lay collaborators, drinking from the well of our sources, becoming renewed in our sense of who we are, and in our desire to live joyfully and wholeheartedly our charism and mission in this world of 2023. During the past year we also celebrated important milestones: the centenary of our Western American Area, and the centenary of two of our RSHM Schools in the Global Network. We look back in gratitude for these and all the opportunities offered that sustained our hope and helped to ‘fan into a flame’ our faith and zeal in carrying out our mission. Under your leadership in all the Areas, along with the leadership of our Institute Teams, and the collaboration of many lay people, these four years have been a time of vibrancy, life and joy, despite our decline in numbers. We thank God for all the graces received.
As we continue our journey at this time of change and uncertainty in our history, a time of moving towards becoming one unit of governance, this period of ‘gestation’, as Fr. Timothy Radcliffe said, referring to the coming year in the Church, what is the Holy Spirit saying to us? Do we hear invitations towards new horizons, and new initiatives in mission? Are we ready to embrace them? What are our hopes and dreams for this time together? “God is eternal newness”, Pope Francis writes in Fratelli Tutti (78). “Don’t be afraid of the innovation that the Holy Spirit works within us”, he urges. (Encountering Truth 84)
The theme we have chosen for this ELC meeting: “Women of prophetic hope, impelled to go out” takes up again the hopes, dreams and the commitments we expressed four years ago at our Chapter, and that we renewed each year since then, at our ELC meetings. This theme invites us to open our hearts anew to the Spirit, to listen, to review and take stock of where we are and where we are being led, and to create new spaces and take bold steps as we journey forward together.
The theme (“Women of prophetic hope, impelled to go out”) also calls us forward, opens us to the future, to the “eternal newness” of God. It invites us to listen with contemplative minds and hearts, and to discern the invitations that the Spirit is making to us now, in the face of the challenges of today. It invites us to be women who walk the synodal journey with all God’s people, weaving new relationships and networks across generations and cultures, moving out to the existential peripheries, and the geographical borders, reaching out in service, always holding fast to the certainty that, even in seemingly hopeless times and situations, God is with us.
We come to this meeting with prayerful, listening, synodal hearts, open to truly hearing one another in confidence – borrowing from the Synod’s letter to the People of God, a trust that “gives us the audacity and inner freedom … to freely and humbly express our convergences, differences, desires and questions”. (Synod letter 25/10/2023)
Margaret Fielding rscm