In Our Own Words: Charism of religious life today is both local and global

This story appears in the In Our Own Words feature series. View the full series.
In Our Own Words: Religious Life in a Changing World
Edited by Juliet Mousseau and Sarah Kohles
Published by Liturgical Press; 238 pages

Editor's note: Global Sisters Report is offering condensed excerpts from three chapters of the newly released book In Our Own Words: Religious Life in a Changing World, a collection of essays by young women religious. Selecting which chapters to highlight was challenging, as each offers thoughtful insights into religious life and spiritual growth. Several writers are regular or occasional contributors to GSR. In the end, we decided on samplings that explored particular themes by sisters who have not written for GSR to offer new voices. This is the first of the three. Find all the excerpts here.

We know that religious life today thrives in a setting of collaboration. Crossing the boundaries of orders and congregations, contemporary women religious live a global sisterhood, "created by partnerships — not only in what we do, in our works, but also in our relationships — how we think, plan, organize, learn, believe and hope." These partnerships are animated by the unique manifestations of our charismatic witness and enlivened by the practices communities have developed to follow the Gospel and address the world's needs.

In getting to know sisters in a variety of apostolic communi­ties in the United States, I have come to see that each of us deeply identifies with the charism of our communities. We resonate with the vision of our foundresses and founders. This vision animates our call to follow the Gospel. Our charisms are sources of vitality, inspiration, and motivation. They help us to tune in, to lean into the call of the Gospel. They are the lens through which we focus to encounter and serve the world around us.

I view our charisms as places of encounter, not boundaries. In our relationships with sisters across charism families, we have opportunities to expand our worldview. We can share with each other the rich vision of the world that our charisms offer. In the interactions between charisms of specific orders and the "global charism" of religious life, we enrich the meaning of our own congregation's charism.

A global sisterhood will be strengthened by the intentional living of our congregational charisms and purposeful sharing of it with each other. As younger sisters who desire to do this well, it is important for us to know the deep stories of our charisms.

As I have learned stories of faith-filled women of my con­gregation who served the young, the poor, and the vulnerable, I have come to make these stories my own. The witness and bravery of my sisters in Mexico at the time of the Revolution, the dedicated service and humility of the sisters from Germany who spent their lives in the United States in kitchens and laun­dries, the devotion and prayer of my sister musicians and artists, and the untiring preaching of my sister educators, nurses, spiritual directors, chaplains, peace activists, justice workers — these stories all shape who I am becoming as a Do­minican Sister of Mission San Jose. The witness to God's love in our stories continues to shape me and my vision as I look at the needs of the world.

Through our immersion in our deep stories as younger reli­gious, we begin to see with the consciousness of our commu­nity and to notice how our lives might contribute to the continued telling of the story. We need to know where we have come from, including the difficulties and challenges our sisters have faced. We need to hear of the hopes and visions held at critical junctures in our history. It is equally important that our community hears our stories. They need to know where we have been and what has shaped us because the iterations of charism into the future will be mediated by our stories, our lives, our gifts.

It is critical that I speak to my community about my desire to serve God's people. I must share the stories that have shaped my life and brought me to this place of joining my life to the congregation's. Since my personal vocation is now a part of the charism of my community, I have a responsibility to share my gifts, my contemplation, and my deep story with my com­munity. Through this process, I begin to join my story to the deep story of my community. In offering my story, my prayer, my service, and my gifts, I join in the sacred task of bringing my congregation's charism to life.

Each of us is called to action in creating a global sisterhood. We must commit to developing networks of relationships and collaborative ministry ventures. Our sisters in leadership are already forging bonds of interconnectedness that will shape our global future. In global charism families and in the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), congregational leaders are deeply engaged in global visioning and action. But it is not their work alone. This work belongs to us all. Locally, in our congregations, charism families, ministries, and relationships with other women religious, each of us can practice the skills necessary to interact at a global level. Our efforts in deep listening, contemplative dialogue, vulnerable sharing, wild dreaming, and mutual acceptance shape our readiness to engage in the unknown ahead.

[Mary Therese Perez entered the Dominican Sisters of Mis­sion San Jose in 2009. She lives in Los Angeles and preaches as a religion teacher at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy. Excerpt is from Pages 68-79 and is used with permission from Liturgical Press.]