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|The 2018 cohort representing eight countries and spanning across two generations.|
When I told people that I was going to a Life Commitment Program, many replied, “Oh, vow camp-I did that!” “Vow camp?” I thought. Would it be like boot camp? A rigorous arduous final test of stamina and perseverance? Thankfully, no, not at all. Rather, it was a grace-filled and sacred time to reflect on my discernment journey with God, with wise seasoned “lifers” (including my own community-mate, Sr. Janet Gildea☺), and with a wonderful troupe of fellow travelers. It was a time to look at who God has called me to grow into through both the periods of profound joy and challenging painful disappointment. And it was a time to contemplate my desire and readiness to commit to doing this for the rest of my life.
I have a sign taped to the computer on my desk at the Intercommunity Justice & Peace Center where I do my ministry that reads, Not for the Faint of Heart. More than once, I’ve found that to be quite a fitting description of the formation process and religious life, a life of intentional self-examination and commitment to continuous transformation and conversion. Despite the challenges, for me it is a life form that is as attractive as a light in the darkness is to a moth. At our opening session, Sr. Charlene Diorka, SSJ asked the group, “Why are you here?” The answer that popped in my head was, “Because I can’t help it!” I can’t resist God drawing me deeper and deeper into discovering God and my true self. Though fleeting, the moments of feeling in union with God are so intoxicating and blissful, they far outweigh the work it takes to get to them - the labor pains. I thought of all the people who have helped me get to this point, especially some of my sisters who have coached me through the toughest of growing pains. Sister of Charity of New York, Regina Bechtle’s poem below came to mind. Religious life is a life of labor, but it’s a labor of love. God’s love for us, and the reciprocal love of God by us.
No C-section for this birth.
You will choose the riskier way,
the way of pushes, gentle or grueling,
of breathing in rhythm with pain.
You choose the wisest midwives,
doulas with muscled hands for you to grip.
They will rub fragrant lotion on pressure points
and murmur into your worst contractions,
“You’re doing just fine.”
You choose not to dull the pain
but to lean into it.
You labor, long and hard.
Somehow you know that waiting
is labor’s hardest part.
~Regina Bechtle, SC
Sr. Charlene also asked us to select a picture that represents how we feel about religious life. This was the one that captured many of my feelings. Religious life is a faith-fueled exciting adventure! Sometimes it’s smooth sailing like in the picture, sometimes the waters churn and get choppy. Though I can’t see where it is I’m headed, I trust that God is calling me, so I can take my hands off the wheel of the helm, throw them up in the air and let God steer the course!
The last day of the program was a day with limited input and time for reflection and integration of all we had explored during the week. It was a beautiful sunny day, so I went outside and sat on a bench that was tucked beneath a cluster of trees. Again, I thought of the parallels between a woman laboring to give birth to new life, and religious life. It is the container that allows me to bring to life the person God created me to be, and in response to be a life bearer to those of God’s people most in need along my way. As a soft breeze danced across my face, I leaned my head back and looked up. The perfectly formed opening to the heavens made by the canopy of branches above me made me laugh out loud! It was literally an open invitation beckoning me forward. I imagined myself at the bow of my little boat, arms raised in exhilaration, as I sailed on through, “Okay God, here I come!”