In the midst of dark days, moments of light spring up like seedlings of hope.
One recent moment of light for me was the Loretto Community's acceptance of the noncanonical vows of two longtime co-members. JoAnn Gates, a lifelong Catholic, and Susan Classen, a committed Mennonite, professed vows — to God, in Loretto — surrounded by their Loretto family and friends.
I was filled with anticipation as we gathered Nov. 4 to reflect on the universal and unique experience of longing for something greater than ourselves and how that is manifest in our lives.
At a morning reflection led by Loretto Sr. Elaine Prevallet, we explored our embodied life energies ("chakras") and the reality of our call to live in a way that consciously places those energies in the service of life.
We shared insights on how vows change our lives — whether in marriage, religious life or other commitments. In the afternoon, we celebrated the longing for something greater as JoAnn and Susan made their vows, connecting all those who have come before with those who are yet to come.
The day of the celebration came at a time when we are surrounded by challenges. We live in a world that seems to be unraveling before our eyes. There is instability in governments, lack of security and safety for millions of people, uncontrolled violence, and slow response to global destruction.
Even in the midst of this collapse, there is a resurgence of grassroots efforts to make a difference. Younger people are again seeking to be of service to our world. There is a growth in awareness of spirituality and connection with a reality larger than ourselves. And there are still people who consciously offer a stable, sacred, contemplative presence.
Religious communities understand what it means to be of service to the world. Many of us have lived through the radical shift in religious life in the last 50 years, since the Second Vatican Council challenged us to return to our roots and to respond to the signs of the times.
We are aware new forms of committed life are emerging that may not fit into a previous mold but that do represent an honest response to that deep longing we experience in our search for the Divine Mystery in our lives.
As we all look back on 2,000 years of committed Christian life, I think we can concur with the definition of religious life offered by St. Joseph Sr. Carol Zinn, that a religious life is a radical response to the Gospel in a particular historical and cultural context.
In Loretto, we have been attentive to many movements of change presented to us over the years. We formed the Loretto Community, which includes both sisters and co-members of Loretto: women and men who share in our mission, spirituality and community.
As we read, researched, prayed and talked about possibilities of other ways of life that might be emerging, the options felt too limiting. Although beginning with a completely formed structure would make things much clearer from the outset, it would also hamper our listening for and creating a structure that might better respond to what is not yet visible on the far horizon.
But remaining faithful to our call of living out the Gospel is still the bedrock of our lives, even as much about us is changing.
I have known JoAnn and Susan for many years and have witnessed their dedicated lives. On this day, they shared their desire and their vulnerability in taking another step. From a deep place in their hearts, they each proclaimed:
Believing that all life is an expression of the Life Energy of God, aware that our lives are not given for us alone, and desiring to touch suffering with compassion and love, I freely and consciously place my life in the service of the One Life.
Knowing our human need for security, I vow ongoing conversion toward rootedness in God.
Knowing our human longing for connection and generativity, I vow ongoing conversion toward a living communion.
Knowing our human propensity to control and dominate, I vow ongoing conversion toward cooperation with all life.
After their profession of vows, JoAnn and Susan were blessed by six "elders" of Loretto on behalf of all who were gathered. I was inspired, aware of the lives of these six women and their many years of faithful, committed life. They prayed through the words of our late Loretto poet Sr. M. Cecily Jones:
With gift of all to God completely made,
As pioneers might find a streak of gold
You follow with explorers' searching hearts.
With love, we bless your delve into mystery.
One sister said this felt like Pentecost, the transmission of the Spirit as we live into a new reality, a new way to respond to the signs of our times.
As Fr. Diarmuid O'Murchu reflects, vows are a conglomerate of values, all of which relate to the human search for meaning.
Vows are aspirations, commitments that determine the direction of our lives, what we do every day as well as how we do it. They are about value radiation, challenging us to engage with how we enculturate such values in the changing circumstances of time and culture — and the creative response to the new possibilities that God's Spirit is forever activating at the heart of creation.
This new possibility in Loretto emerged through conversations within our community, with other religious communities, and with young adults. As the Loretto Community continues listening to the Spirit in the signs of these times, we look forward to ongoing engagement with others who are seeking to radiate values needed in our particular time and culture.
[Loretto Sr. Catherine Mueller is co-founder and co-director of EarthLinks, a nonprofit in Denver that links people who are homeless and economically poor with Earth and with one another. She has served as the president of the Sisters of Loretto / Loretto Community.]