Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Living the "already" of mission and the "not yet" of vows

By Sr. Kara Davis, Daughter of Charity Under 10 Years Vocation

Click HERE to learn more about Sr. Kara
Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

I was registering for an Archdiocesan Day of Reflection for Consecrated Life here in Chicago and struggled to complete the form.  Name, congregation, years of vocation… easy questions.  Then there was a special section for those in initial formation.  Yes, that’s me!  We were instructed to mark our stage of formation from four choices listed:  postulant, novice, temporary professed, and perpetually professed.  I immediately thought well, none of the above.  Is there an option for a sister who’s not a religious, who will never profess temporary or perpetual vows? 
The Daughters of Charity are canonically a Society of Apostolic Life, rather than a Religious Institute, and our structure and terminology is a bit different than our Religious friends (including the various congregations within the Sisters of Charity Federation).  This category of consecrated life first hit the scene in the 1983 Code of Cannon Law, but we have been living out of our particular spirit since our foundation in 1633.  (Others have written extensively on this topic, so be sure to click on the links if you want to learn more.)
A major distinction between religious congregations and our particular identity as Daughters of Charity that many folks get hung up on revolves around the vows.  Our vows are “non-religious, annual, and always renewable” (Constitution 28a).  Folks seem puzzled at times when I explain to them that I am a sister out on mission and haven’t made any vows.  I’m quick to clarity that I live the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, and obedience) and am deeply committed to serving Christ in the Poor (fourth vow of the Daughters of Charity), but I have not made any vows.  Daughters of Charity in initial formation make vows for the first time between 5-7 years vocation, and then renew them each year with all the sisters on the Feast of the Annunciation, a special day in the community we call Renovation.  To understand how a sister can be sent on mission from the Seminary (similar to the novitiate) without any vows (typically religious congregations profess temporary vows after the novitiate), it is important to clarify the relationship between serving the mission and making vows, for us as Daughters of Charity.
"Incorporation" (August 21, 2016)
In his article, “The Vows According to the Specific Spirit of the Daughters of Charity,” Fr.Fernando Quintano, CM explains, “… vows are not what make someone a Daughter of Charity; rather the nature and manner of making them contribute to the identity of the Company and are a necessary condition for remaining in it.  The central point within religious consecration is the profession of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience by public vows, while for the Daughters of Charity, the central point is mission, that is to say, continuing the mission of Christ, Evangelizer and Servant, a mission expressed through the corporal and spiritual service of poor persons.”  (Echoes of the Company, No. 4 July-Aug 2011, pg. 408)

I have been a Daughter of Charity since I was incorporated into the community and I have continued as a member of the community throughout Seminary and now out on mission in Chicago.  My "Sending on Mission" was a significant moment on my journey as a Daughter of Charity because I was sent forth to participate in the mission of Christ, specifically sent to serve persons who are poor, which as Fr. Quintano points out, is the central point of our lives:  MISSION.  
"Sending on Mission" (April 21, 2018)
My day to day life doesn’t seem too different than my sisters who have made vows.  We pray together, share community life together, and serve alongside each other in various ministries.  Yet every March 25 there is something that distinctly separates us.  During that quiet pause after the homily during a Renovation mass, the sisters silently recite the vow formula, making their vows to God for another year.  It is such a sacred moment to witness as a sister under vows, as I feel the tension between the already of mission life and the not yet of vows.
So, what does a sister under vows do during Renovation?  I pray for my sisters, those gathered at the present liturgy, and the 14,000 others scattered across the globe saying “yes” under a variety of challenging circumstances.  Last year when I was in the Seminary, we celebrated Renovation with our senior sisters missioned to the ministry of prayer in St. Louis.  I accompanied one sister during mass and was instructed to prompt her when it was time to renew vows.  I held her hand, pointed to the vow formula, and loudly whispered into her ear, “It’s time to make your vows.”  She erupted into a broad smile and responded, “uh-huh.”  I pointed to the words of the vow formula and watched her gaze travel across the page, with an occasional slight nod of the head.
In a few years, God-willing, I will make my own “uh-huh” to God for the first time.  But in the meantime, I will continue to live in the already of mission life:  strengthening my identity as a Daughter of Charity, expanding my love for the Poor, broadening my forms of service, investing myself in community life, and forever deepening my relationship with God.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Leaning into Lent and others

By Sr. Carlette Gentle, SC Federation Perpetually Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Carlette

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

The Gospel reading for the first Tuesday of Lent reminds us of a God of every season including a season of Lent, a season where we reap what we sow, a season where there is no need for distress or worry when what we do or seek is grounded in good and God. This is because our God is one who rescues the just. He seeks us not to babble like the pagans but a people who do. Read on to learn of a connection to trauma, and what I believe, we must do this Lenten season.

Trauma and our reading. As a current master of social work student at St. Louis University learning about trauma in an advance Human Behavior and the Social Environment course, I see the link to this week’s readings. There are continuous studies, which show that children, even babies in utero, can be impacted negatively from toxic stress. Toxic stress response according to Nadine Burke Harris is when a child experiences strong frequent, and/or prolong adversity – such as physical or emotional abuse, neglect, caregiver substance or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship – without adequate adult support. This rather prolonged activation of the stress-response system can disrupt the development of the brain and other organ systems, and increase the risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment, well into the adult years. Burke (2018) states that toxic stress affects:

· how we learn,
· how we parent,
· how we react at home and at work, and
· what we create in our communities

All of us are sufferers of toxic stress. Is there something that can mediate these risk factors?

Link to the reading. Trauma is an important conversation because as we venture into Lent, we are always looking for something to give up. In the light of the above knowledge, it makes more sense to add a Lenten ritual to help all people. Trauma interrupts the processing and receipt of love, hardening our hearts and how we see the world. Yet love is a mediating factor. Therefore, why not consider adding love, compassion, and care for the other to our Lenten season rather than giving up something random.

Closing. As we look at our world surrounded by daily stressors threatening the equilibrium of our society, remember God is continuously there. We should be too. God provides seeds for the one who sows and bread for the one who eats ... as the psalm reassures us that “From all our distress God rescues the just.” Our world needs LOVE. Karen Young (2019) states that the environment might continue to be stressful and deeply painful for a child, but research has shown that with the support of a loving adult, the physiological effects of the stress response can be softened, minimizing the risk of long-term damage. During this Lenten season, let us lessen our babbling and show more love to our brothers and sisters. Let us take to heart that as God gives us our daily bread that we share that bread daily with our others and surround ourselves in love.