Santiago, Chile — Notes from the Field includes reports from young people volunteering in ministries of Catholic sisters. A partnership with Catholic Volunteer Network, the project began in the summer of 2015. This is our fifth round of bloggers: Katie Delaney is a Good Shepherd Volunteer with the Fundación Madre Josefa (Mother Joseph Foundation) in Santiago, Chile, and Lauren Magee is a Good Shepherd Volunteer at Hands of Hope, an income-generating project that provides dignified employment for villagers living with HIV/AIDS in Nong Khai, Thailand.
"Oh, so you're sisters?"
I can't count the number of times my fellow Good Shepherd Volunteers and I have fielded this question over the course of our time in Chile. Our explanation of our yearlong commitment to service in various ministries of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd almost always follows with, "No, we are not sisters ourselves."
Yet while we may not hold that title, we have been blessed by the sisters' willingness to share their spirituality — a spirituality I have learned can be relevant to anyone, not just those in religious life.
In November, Hermana Carolina and Alejandra, a novice, invited us to spend a long weekend at one of the sisters' houses in Valparaíso, Chile. It was about two months into our service year, and I appreciated the opportunity to take some time away to process our transition and hopes for the year.
Hermana Carolina and Alejandra opened the retreat with a brief explanation of the history of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. St. Mary Euphrasia, the foundress of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, originally joined the Order of Our Lady of Charity, which St. John Eudes founded. As such, her spirituality was influenced by Eudes, whose approach to prayer has become known as the four movements.
The Sisters of the Good Shepherd's Province of Bolivia/Chile adapted these four movements to make them accessible to sisters, youth, and lay retreatants alike. This provided the structure for our retreat.
1. Welcome and open yourself to the experience
First, we had an opportunity to open ourselves to the retreat and to God with a number of prompts: reflecting on spiritual highs and lows, moments when we felt closest and furthest from God, people who had influenced our spiritual journey, and special names for God that would help us feel connected to the Divine in that moment.
I thought of this movement as an act of surrender to God, inviting my prayer space to be whatever it needed to be, under the guidance of the Good Shepherd. As I considered my relationship with God up to that point in my life, one title stuck out to me: God the healer.
2. Contemplate and give thanks for God's love
Next, we were invited to go deeper into the retreat experience by reading a few different verses from Scripture as well as a quote from Eudes. The intention was to pay attention to what stood out or resonated with us, using the Word of God as a means of reflecting and giving thanks for the love that God has for us.
At earlier points in my life, I remember feeling like God's love was an abstract concept. I wasn't sure how to relate to a presence that seemed so big and beyond myself. This separation that I drew between me and God is the main area of my life where I've experienced healing — healing my relationship with myself by recognizing that God lives within me, too. This divine presence in each person also informs the sisters' spirituality and ministry, built on personal relationships.
3. Move closer to God
This was a time to try to close the gap between ourselves and God through forgiveness. We reflected on times God has forgiven us and on people we may need to forgive or those from whom we may need to ask for forgiveness. Then, we considered how we could incorporate forgiveness practices into our lives.
Before this retreat, I hadn't really given time or space to consider these questions. I was amazed how many things emerged that I had been holding onto, potentially holding me back from loving more fully. I realized how much room resentment and shame take up in our hearts, room that could be filled with love to give to others. My image of God the healer seemed even more relevant.
4. Give yourself to God
In this final movement of surrender and thanksgiving, we were invited to offer something to God. With an awareness of God's love for us, we could write a prayer or an expression of love we have for God and set an intention for how to embody this love in our lives.
During this time, I was struck by the connection between the ways God works in our lives and the lives God calls us to live. As I gave thanks for the healing God who has brought wholeness to my life, I realized I wanted to offer the same healing support in my service, personal relationships, and every other aspect of my life.
Perhaps the Divine that we encounter in prayer is the very Divine presence God calls us to be for others — and maybe the gifts we most need to receive are the very gifts God invites us to share.
By the end of our retreat, we had received an intimate introduction to one aspect of the sisters' spirituality, a spirituality that helps them maintain their strength and motivation to stay committed to serve the world's most vulnerable women and children across 73 countries.
1 John 4:19 says, "We love because he first loved us." When we experience the love of God in our hearts, we are compelled to share that love with others. As the sisters so beautifully model, our love for those we serve and for each other is all a reflection, a manifestation, of God's love for us.
[Katie Delaney is a Good Shepherd Volunteer in Santiago, Chile.]