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Mercywords: an E-Journal is published online four (4) times per year: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall.
From the Editor
Carol Rittner RSM
Keeping the Spirit of Vatican II Alive
Deirdre Mullan RSM
Keeping the Faith
Aline Paris RSM
Keeping Alive the Spirit of Jesus and the Spirit of Vatican II
Philomena Bowers RSM
“The Spirit of the Lord...”
Dina Altamiranda RSM
A Life-giving Tapestry
Mary Roch Rocklage RSM
Janette Gray RSMOpening%20Essay%20March%202011.htmlEssay%201%20March%202011.htmlEssay%202%20March%202011.htmlEssay%204%20March%202011.htmlEssay%205%20March%202011.htmlEssay%206%20March%202011.htmlshapeimage_3_link_0shapeimage_3_link_1shapeimage_3_link_2shapeimage_3_link_3shapeimage_3_link_4shapeimage_3_link_5shapeimage_3_link_6
Keeping Alive the Spirit of Jesus and the Spirit of Vatican II
In 2012, we will mark fifty years since the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Those of us who were alive during those heady days of the Council will have particular memories – maybe anxiety as familiar structures collapsed, or perhaps excitement in witnessing the winds of change blowing through the Church and religious congregations. If we were excited by the changes and the resulting opportunities, how can we keep the experience aglow in these rather turbulent times in the Church and the world?
Words, images, and pictures are very important to me. They help me think in a new way. Scripture is filled with pictures, images, and stories. The documents of Vatican II are equally imaginative. They speak of the people of God, the priesthood of the laity, reading the signs of the times. The language of the documents may be difficult in places, but the imagery is expressive. I recall the words of Bill Huebsch in his book, A Spirituality of Wholeness:
    because of fearless people
    during the Council of Vatican II,
we have a fresh language,
    a language of life and vitality,
    a language that promises
to help those who take it seriously
to move into the Heart of the Lord
        and the Heart of the Gospel.
These last lines are a strong reminder to those of us who are consecrated Mercy women that our primary purpose is the God-quest, the search for God.
What helps me keep alive the spirit of Jesus and the spirit of Vatican II?
The invitation that came from the Vatican II document on Religious Life was to look again at the origin of each of our religious institutes, to rediscover our original charism(s). At the time, my knowledge of our Foundress and the foundation of the Sisters of Mercy were, at best, sketchy. Now, reading about Venerable Catherine McAuley, recognising the powerful effect of her life on others, hearing of the work she and the early Sisters of Mercy undertook, provide a constant challenge. Catherine’s reminder that “it commenced with two” and the courage of the early Sisters continue to inspire me. Their example gives me hope – that it is not so much what I do as who I am that is the real witness.
This truth is echoed in the Vatican II document, Vita Consecrata:
…it can be said that consecrated persons are “in mission” by virtue of their consecration, to which they bear witness in accordance with the ideal of their Institute. When the founding charism provides for pastoral activities, it is obvious that the witness of life and the witness of works of the apostolate and human development are equally necessary (par. 72).
The Sisters of Mercy are richly blessed that our founding documents were Scripture-based. Catherine wove her knowledge of Scripture through her writings and lived it in her life. She invites us to do the same. Our ready access to Scripture and hearing another’s reflection and their interpretation of it helps me to look anew at my own understanding of the Word of God.
We have learned over the last nearly fifty years since Vatican II that institutions pass, structures pass and customs change. What is lasting is that there are always people in our lives – those with whom we share the Mercy way of life, those on the margins whom we serve in ministry, our family and friends, our Associate members, and our co-workers. To live our lives in the true spirit of the Gospels and with the inspiration of our Foundress, we need each other. We need the support of others who are on the same quest, those who share the same vision and mission. I need to seek out those with whom I can share the richness and the struggles of life.
There are wonderful opportunities to enrich our personal prayer and, perhaps, to help enrich liturgical prayer. But it is not easy. We need time for prayer and reflection in order to recognise God’s action in our lives and to be able to read the signs of the times. We need a willingness to be open to different forms of prayer, to accommodate at times those who do things differently.
Much of the teaching of Vatican II has not yet been realised, or has been retracted. However, the real success of the Council is meeting people with a living faith, who live out that faith within the Church at this time and who, through their active participation, strive to make the Priesthood of the Laity a reality. I take energy by sharing community and church life with them.
A strong personal belief in all of this is that change can happen. Without that faith, the urgency of the Gospel call to daily conversion and the call of the Council for renewal are meaningless. The potential to be more whole exists in all of us. We need to encourage and challenge each other to grasp it. There is a Hindu proverb that says: “If you take two steps toward God, God runs to you.”
The poet David Whyte was moved by the carved faces along the walls of a monastery and wrote the poem “The Faces of Braga”. In reads in part:
If only our own faces
would allow the invisible carver’s hands
to bring the deep grain of love to the surface.
If only we knew
as the carver knew, how the flaws
in the wood led his searching chisel to the very core,
we would smile, too
and not need faces immobilized
by fear and the weight of things undone.
What a wonderful image – faces aglow with the deep grain of love – enabling the spirit of Jesus and the spirit of Vatican II to be ever new.
Philomena Bowers RSM (UK) is a member of the Union of the Sisters of Mercy of Great Britain, who recently completed her term as Congregational Leader. She is a former member of the Advisory Board to Mercy Global Concern at the United Nations in New York.
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