Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Intentional Community for the Future (and Present)!

By Sr. Tracy Kemme, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Tracy

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Growing up, I can assure you: I never imagined that I would spend my adult years living with inter-generational groups of women.  So how did it come to be?

Ecuador 2008

Ten years ago this summer, I traveled to Ecuador as an international volunteer with Rostro de Cristo.  I knew that part of the experience would be living in what they called “intentional community,” but it honestly wasn’t the component that attracted me.   I wanted to serve others, practice Spanish, and grow in my faith, and doing that while rooming with other young people seemed like a good idea.  I quickly discovered that intentional community is more than sharing a roof and a bathroom.  It was a commitment to each other that transformed all of our other commitments.

In the early stages of building life together, community was easy, exciting, and joyful.    Of course, the honeymoon period ended eventually.  Sometimes, intentional community drained me.  After a long day of ministry, the last thing I wanted to do was sit around the dinner table for a long time and talk.  Sometimes, it broke me.  Sharing life in such an intimate way showed us our rawest selves; this vulnerability could be freeing and painful.  But once I felt the rhythm of intentional community for several months, and then years, I began to see its power.

Through the high points (celebrations and laughter), the low points (disagreements and tears), and all the mundane in between (peeling potatoes and brushing teeth), God was able to build something beautiful among us.  Communal prayer and sheer, stubborn fidelity sustained us.  When our time together in Ecuador came to an end, we knew we had become part of each other.  Intentional community was not for the faint of heart, but in the struggle was salvation.

After Ecuador, I moved into Casa de Caridad on the U.S.-Mexico border with Sisters of Charity Carol, Janet, and Peggy, who had been cultivating their intentional community for almost twenty years.  I was the recipient of their warm hospitality, a value central to their common life.  It was a new challenge, living with women of different ages, backgrounds, and levels of commitment.  But again, I found that the difficulties on any given day were part of a mysterious process of collective growth and transformation and that our commitment to one another bore more than enough laughter, joy, fun, mutual support, and love to go around.  

Three years later, Sisters Carol, Maureen, Nancy and Terry welcomed me just as generously into their community in Cincinnati.  They even moved to a new home with extra space to be able to do so!  With them, too, I found a treasure.  Their long commitment to one another had yielded love and deep wisdom that filled our home.


These relationships were what ultimately allowed me to say, “Yes!” to religious life.  I could serve and minister in a myriad of ways as a married or single woman, but I knew God was calling me to do life as a woman religious with other women religious in intentional community.

Current intentional community
Now, I can hardly believe it, but I’ve lived in intentional community for ten consecutive years.  I can’t picture my life as a sister without it.  It is the place where I grow into the best version of myself and know that I am loved even on the days when I fall short.  It’s the place where I learn how to love others just as they are.  We have a built-in, in-home support system and a bond that runs deep no matter how much we like each other on any particular day.

We share our spiritual lives, enriching each other with insights and ways of praying we’d never come to on our own.  We reflect together on the world and on our call to be agents of justice, and we show up together at Mass, marches, vigils, and other community events.  We encourage one another in ministry, and we walk together in continual discernment.  We become extended members of each other’s friends and families.  And, of course, we celebrate, play, get silly, and make memories we’ll still be laughing about years from now.

Intentional community takes extra work but it bears wondrous blessings over time, like a delectable homemade pasta sauce that requires lots of initial elbow grease and hours of simmering to yield rich flavor.  For the future of religious life, this kind of community is essential.  Which means that it is essential now.

My current community has made it part of our covenant to be a house of hospitality and discernment.  We recognize the gift we have found and want to share it with others, whether a young woman seeking God’s call, a partner in ministry, or a refugee in need of shelter.  And so, we are faithful to our commitment, as God is unfathomably faithful to us.

For your reflection:

An important part of intentional community is a commitment to growth and renewal.  A few Sundays ago, our intentional community gathered to reflect on our life together for 2018 using Jean Vanier's writing as inspiration.  I offer you the quotes for your pondering:

*It is when the members of a community realize that they are not there simply for themselves or their own sanctification, but to welcome the gift of God, to hasten God’s Kingdom, and to quench the thirst of others, that they truly live as community.

*We shouldn’t seek the ideal community. It is a question of loving those whom God has set beside us today. They are signs from God. We might have chosen different people…But these are the ones God has given us, the ones He has chosen for us. It is with them that we are called to create unity and live in covenant.

*Perhaps the most essential quality for anyone who lives in community is patience: a recognition that we, others and the whole community, take time to grow. If we are to live in community, we have to be friends of time.

*The process of becoming a community happens when the majority of its members make the transition from ‘the community for myself’ to ‘myself for the community.’

*Community is established by the simple, gentle concern that people show each other every day. It is made of the small gestures, all the services and sacrifices which say ‘I love you’ and ‘I’m happy to be with you.’

*Community is the place of forgiveness. There are always words that wound, self-promoting attitudes, situations where susceptibilities clash. That is why living together implies a certain cross, a constant effort and an acceptance that comes from daily and mutual forgiveness.

*The gift of community, of unity, will come only when all members of the community are truly themselves, living as expression of God’s love within them in the exercise of the gifts He has given them. The community becomes one because it is fully under the influence of the Holy Spirit who unites it.

*When it begins, a community is like a seed which must grow to become a tree. As it matures, and becomes a tree that bears fruit, it also must be a place where birds of the air can come to make their nests.

*A community which prays together, which enters into silence and adoration, is bound together by the action of the Holy Spirit. God listens in a special way to the cry which rises from a community.

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