Workshop on Contemplative life today held in SOUTH. KOREA
Sisters Jude Ellen Golumbieski and Brigid Lawlor modeled the richness of our both ways of life in the congregation in a workshop entitled “Contemplative Life in an Apostolic Congregation: What does it mean to be Impelled by God’s Love?”. The event took place in S. Korea on July 28, 2017 as a preparation for the return in September of the Korean Contemplative Sisters who have been having international experiences for the past three years in contemplative communities as a means of deepening their understanding of contemplative life in the congregation today. Sister Johanna Yong served as interpreter. The Korean Contemplative Sisters who are living in the Province of Mid-North enjoyed the same workshop in July at the contemplative community in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, USA. Forty-six sisters attended the gathering including Sisters Bridget and Hanan from the Congregational Leadership Team.
At the beginning of the workshop the participants did an exercise to put aside their past understanding of contemplative life so as to hear “anew” their history as well as to listen for what is “new.” Clarifying the identity of contemplative sisters in an apostolic congregation was the theme which ran through the various topics reviewed.
While the Essential Elements of Contemplative Life have been in process since the 1990s, there is a continued call to ponder them deeply and reflect on how they are lived today. This workshop devoted time to: Apostolic Incarnational Prayer, Community Life, Enclosure, Apostolic Zeal and Justice
APOSTOLIC INCARNATIONAL PRAYER
The explanation of the Essential Element, Apostolic Incarnational Prayer included a power point expressing the reality of the world today. Several sisters roleplayed an actual situation which visually portrayed the meaning Apostolic Incarnational Prayer. The interplay between the apostolic and contemplative ways of life became evident with the reading of Constitutions Article Six on Mission and Spirit. After the reflection, sisters noted that it is clear how “living in the moment” and “making each moment a moment of contemplation,” “finding God dwelling within that moment and ourselves,” are key to this essential element.
The Essential Element of Community Life provides the support for the contemplation to which the sisters are called. Sister Jude Ellen noted that it is a great challenge, a personal experience, a struggle to constantly cultivate the values of contemplative life.
The first constitutions given to the sisters by St. Mary Euphrasia asked, “How shall we know the sisters? It is by the sincere love that they have for one another. “May charity unite all hearts, souls and spirits so closely that they truly are one; may it be read on their faces and on their whole being. May they form only one heart and one soul.” Constitutions of 1834 and 1857
In an address given to a group of contemplative sisters at Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi, Pope Francis’ words resonated with this essential element: He said, “Build community life. It is the Holy Spirit who is in the middle of community. Always contemplate, always with Jesus…and in community life always with a big heart….A sign of this is joy which is born of true contemplation and from the beauty of community life”.
Highlighting some of the distinctions between the apostolic and contemplative focus on community life, Sister Brigid pointed out several differences. For apostolic sisters, community life frees us for mission, it sustains our zeal. We organize our community life to foster apostolic mobility. For contemplative sisters it is the structure of community life that is the aid to foster their prayer. Thus our structures are and should be different.
Constitutions, Article 43 (for Contemplative Sisters) says that:
The enclosure is a sign of our exclusive attention to the Lord and our total dedication to prayer. It enables us to enter the solitude and silence so
necessary for our vocation. This solitude is fruitful to the extent that we are sensitive to the sorrows, the hopes and the joys of all people. Although the enclosure separates us from others it helps us to become more profoundly present to them in the Heart of Christ. In the light of faith and zeal we value enclosure as a gift of God.
Time clarifying how enclosure continues even when outside of the community, helped the participants to understand what it means to have enclosure of the heart.
During one of the theological reflections, one contemplative sister described the meaning of enclosure. She said: “I experience enclosure of the heart when I can call myself back to the silence of the moment and am able to relate to others with attention and compassion. When I re-focus on Jesus and his dwelling within me, I realize that God’s people are with me too and I am never alone in my intimate moments with the Lord.” The “moment” returns!
Studying the wording of the vow of zeal for each way of life, (Article 29) showed that work and prayer are not the most important aspects. The vow of zeal also defines our relationship with one another as apostolic and contemplative members. Eliciting examples from both the contemplative and apostolic sisters present, showed the differences in approach. They also demonstrated for the contemplative sisters a respect for the enclosure and the concrete boundaries the different lifestyles have regarding relationship as well as how to act in specific circumstances.
Justice today and its challenges were discussed. Like everyone, contemplative sisters are challenged to increase awareness of global realities and take concrete action in solidary with our sisters and brothers. Sr. Jude Ellen raised a series of questions:
How does this awareness fit in with contemplative life today?
To be poured out in mercy and compassion on the suffering people of the world,
how do we safeguard our contemplative life?
Do we dare to move into the future with courage and hope?
Can we rid ourselves of outdated structures so that we have hearts full of compassion?
During the past two Congregational Contemplative Assemblies (2008 and 2014), the link between justice and creation was strengthened. Enthusiastically we proclaim that the demands of justice requires us to passionately defend the beauty of God’s creation which we value as an Icon of God. We claim Justice, Peace and care of Creation as integral to our charism and subsequently our way of life.
What is the contemplative dimension of Justice?
What can contemplative sisters do to promote justice in our world?
Sr. Brigid then asked the apostolic sisters present to reflect on the following: As you consider your own work for justice as an apostolic member of the Congregation, how do you see it as different from the ways in which the contemplative sisters live this element?
Needless to say, a lively discussion took place; many concrete examples surfaced. It was clear that with this essential element, a well-defined discernment process is needed to come to decision-making.
A review of Article One (which was passed 14 years ago in 2003) served as a reminder to continue to clarify what it means to be a contemplative in an apostolic congregation. Both presenters stressed the importance of the contemplatives sisters communicating that which is essential to the contemplative way of life and that the contemplative sisters in consultation with the Province Leader and her Contemplative Council or the Congregational Leader and her Contemplative Council have the responsibility for any decisions which effect their way of life in the congregation.
More questions surfaced about government as well as a sharing of general concerns.
The sessions ended with a historical presentation that took the form of a “quiz.” Twelve questions were asked to which the participants spontaneously answered true or false. For example: During St. Mary Euphrasia’s lifetime, Sisters of St. Mary Magdalen were present at the General Chapter? What do you think? Is it true or false?