In the middle of winter, with snow and very cold temperatures at home, I find myself in an oasis: a beautiful small garden with blooming and colorful flowers and trees. I am in the convent of the Hermanas Franciscanas Misioneras de Jesús (HFMJ)* in El Salvador.
This vibrant community — young in both its foundation and membership — invited me to come work with their general chapter delegates to present the results of their use of the tool known as the Life Satisfaction Scale for Apostolic Women Religious (LSSAWR).
The Sisters had responded immediately and whole-heartedly to the invitation to participate and to receive both the individual and communal benefits of the LSSAWR.
Unlike other visits, especially those entailing international travel, this visit was unexpected and filled with many providential moments.
In fact, this astonishing visitation with women religious was graced with so many transformative encounters that it drew me into a deeper reflection on the Feast of the Visitation. In reading the scripture passage of the Visitation (Luke 1:39-56), I can feel an urgency and yearning between Elizabeth and Mary to visit and share their deepest experience of God's call for them and its meaning for the world of their time. How appropriate that the Visitation is the logo of the LSSAWR!
It was exactly this mutual aspiration which was underlying my visitation with the HFMJ in El Salvador.
Moreover, the timing of this visitation was very fitting. It took place right before the season of Lent, a time that calls us to prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Our experience underlined that, first, it is prayer that repeatedly calls us into right relationships with our creator and with all of creation; second, it is fasting that calls us to abstain from unhealthy distractions and to refocus on the deeper meaning of our lives and our service to those in need; third, it is almsgiving that calls us to benevolent sharing of all we have received with those who might and can benefit from it.
It is in the mutual sharing of the blessings and gifts received, and in the exchange of our dreams, hopes and visions for the vitality of religious life, that we women religious can find inner peace and inspirational guidance.
The sharing between the HFMJ and me was facilitated by using the LSSAWR. Since this tool emerged from the sharing of women religious for women religious, no one at our visitation was surprised at how well it facilitated this encounter among the general chapter delegates of the HFMJ, our female translator and me.
Together, we reflected collaboratively on our personal and communal realities and challenges, and we joyously accepted our blessings and charisms in service to our world.
The combination of the sisters' individual experiences and the use of the LSSAWR led to the written summary of an outcome-based congregational report.
For us, it allowed for a sisterly and grace-filled encounter, or encuentro. I am so grateful to the sisters for their hospitality and sharing. It was in this encuentro that I felt we were re-enacting Luke's Visitation.
I feel so grateful to our LSSAWR research team and for the support of Catholic Extension, Global Sisters Report and Duquesne University. Through the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, our international and multi-lingual LSSAWR project is now available to apostolic women religious worldwide. (The Conrad Hilton Foundation also funds Global Sisters Report.)
I invite sisters who speak English, Spanish or German to take the LSSAWR survey on our website in their respective languages. It can be found at the bottom of the participant page by clicking the blue study link in the participant cover letter. This link will lead you directly to the survey.
I'm anxious to see how many leadership teams of apostolic congregations of women religious will invite their membership and receive a summarized congregational report. Please go to our website for contact and additional information.
It has been so wonderful to work with countless women religious over these past years — those who have shared their wisdom in helping launch the LSSAWR internationally, and those who have used the LSSAWR individually and congregationally.
May this blessed season of Lent fill us with a joyous and generous hearts and with transformative encounters of God's evermore astonishing presence in our lives.
[Maria Clara Kreis is a native of Germany and has lived for 20 years with her religious community of the Sisters of Divine Providence in the United States. She is currently the grant project coordinator and lead researcher at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on life satisfaction among Roman Catholic apostolic women religious.]
*Author's note: While it is our practice to keep the names of participating congregations confidential, permission was received from the HFMJ to mention their name and use their pictures for this reflection.