As the Year of Consecrated Life draws to a close, it is fitting to reflect on its major themes and our journey over the past twelve months, writes CRA President Sister Berneice Loch rsm, as she highlights the strong bond that religious Institutes have with each other and reaffirms that more can be achieved by working together.
As the Year of Consecrated Life draws to a close, it is fitting to reflect on its major themes and our journey over the past twelve months.
In his Apostolic Letter in November last year, Pope Francis drew our attention to three themes. The first of these themes, to ‘look to the past with gratitude’ has been an important focus. All of our religious congregations owe an enormous gratitude to the women and men who were guided by the spirit to create and build the Institutes and Congregations which exist today. Remembering the pioneering spirit of those who have gone before us has hopefully instilled in us a new energy to be able to take that same spirit into our present time and beyond.
I am always uncovering a new story from my own Institute's history, for which I have nothing but admiration and at times, amazement of the achievement, given the challenges that confronted us. In contrast, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has again this year been a painful and shocking reminder that our history as religious in Australia is indeed an imperfect one. There is still so much sorrow and pain being experienced today due to the actions of some members of religious institutes in the past for which we rightly bear a great sense of shame and remorse.
There are many examples of Australia’s religious institutes over the past year embracing Francis’ second theme of ‘living the present with passion’. While we can get despondent due to declining numbers, Australian religious have continued to fulfil Francis’ words on a daily basis. Whether it was the recent forum at Parliament House on refugees and asylum seekers or the individual acts of prayer and service undertaken in many different ways by men and women religious all over our country, the passion for religious life is as strong as it has ever been.
During the past month, I saw a shining example of consecrated life in the wonderful work of two Sisters visiting from Ireland (Sr Aine O’Connor rsm and Sr Denise Boyle fmdm) and local religious in their support for the community of Chinchilla in southern Queensland. Following the tragic loss of one of their landowners who had been fighting to save his property from being taken over by Coal Seam Gas (CSG) companies, the Sisters were able to be present to the community and attract national media attention for the injustices faced by this town. Their actions illustrate that there is still a strong need for religious life. One of the great joys of consecrated life in Australia today is the strong bond all religious Institutes have with each other. All of us recognise that a lot more can be achieved by working together.
The third theme, ‘embrace the future with hope,’ will continue to be a challenging one for us all. Francis reminded us that the hope should not be based on statistics or accomplishments, but on the One in whom we have put our trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:2), the One for whom “nothing is impossible” (Lk 1:37). All of us know that our Institutes and congregations will change into the future. Yet what we perhaps don’t always recognise is that with this change comes opportunity for wider involvement. In some cases, the change offers a freedom not to be bound by structures of the past and instead continue the charism in a way which will meet the needs of the time.
As we conclude this Year of Conscecrated Life, may our collective prayer be one of giving thanks for the past, asking God for the passion to continue to serve others in the present, and for all of us to embrace the future with a renewed sense of hope.