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Igniting the Future –Ahora!

A Reflection for the October 2023 Meeting of the Elected Leaders of the Dominican Sisters Conference by Sr. Pat Twohill, OP

I set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, that you and your descendants might live, loving the Lord, your God. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Here we are assembled around the theme: Igniting the Future—Ahora! Yes, now. This is our charge.

As congregational leaders many demands call forth our creativity.

  • How many of us are dealing with the sale or repurposing of buildings, land and property?
  • How many of us are engaging our sisters in conversations to reimagine our governance structures?
  • How many of us are making arrangements to sustain Dominican and Catholic identity in our schools or other founded ministries?
  • How many of us are dealing with ecclesial and societal polarization in the local church and civic settings where we serve?
  • How many of us desire a future full of hope for all of our members?
  • How many of us are aware that we are losing capacity in critical areas needed to sustain our organizations, areas such as future leadership, justice promotion, finance, communications, vocation promotion, and formation, etc.?
  • How many of us are concerned about sisters who are seriously ill?
  • And how many of our sisters have gone home to God since we last met in October 2022?

Yes, we juggle all of these concerns and more. No one could ever accuse us of not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time!

And here assembled, is an amazing and blessed group of leaders. How lucky we are to have each other with whom to share our struggles and joys, and to feel tangible support.

We have been called to Congregational leadership during a time that requires discernment of our emerging future. We recognize that we are in a crucible of change. Grounded in our present moment we stand on the highest hill trying to scan the horizon to see if we can glimpse what may be next as we hear scripture’s echo: “I have set before you life and death, a blessing or a curse, choose life that you and your descendants might live!”

We take to heart Joan Chittister's reflection selected for our hearing today by Mary (Prininski), where Joan reminds us that random change without purpose simply creates agitation. She counsels that change undertaken with tradition in mind is what counts. That our sense of history can be for us an angelic guide through what appears to be a desert of possibilities. She reminds us that to be alive is to try things, and she challenges us to learn not just from our successes but from our failures as well.

Recall our own Rebecca Ann's Presidential Address at LCWR where she acknowledged that the pace of our lives can be overwhelming at times. She noted that for us as leaders negotiating curves and detours requires the skill of a race car driver. She noted that sometimes our windshield is clean and clear, and sometimes fog and rain reduce our visibility significantly. She invited us to consider “pathways thinking” which encourages us to generate multiple pathways to lead from where we are now to our desired future. Differing pathways give us options for our perusal, choice, and more flexible decision making.[1]

Sisters, where do we see ourselves going, and how will we get there? What pathways can we imagine? As I prayed with these questions, my recent visit to Santiago de Compostela kept coming to my mind. A number of you in this assembly have walked the Camino and made this pilgrimage. I confess, unlike most of you, I took the easiest route of all—but I still got there.

I recall that there are at least nine popular routes that lead to Compostela. Some come from the North, some from the South, some from the East, some from the West, some over mountainous terrain, others over flatter ground, yet they all arrive at the same destination. There are numerous stops along each route for refreshment and for the bandaging of blisters, healing of shin splints--- and always there is comradery, with friends both new and known along the way.

It seems we are on a pilgrimage of sorts—starting out from unique points of departure yet heading in a common direction towards a destination that with the Holy Spirit’s help, we may actually have the privilege to help shape. Let’s not think small. What we envision may even encompass more than just our charism family. Can we begin to name our pathways of possibility?

As with any journey, we likely will encounter detours, possibly some dead ends, and some of us pilgrims may need special assistance if our legs give out. Or, like Moses, we may never arrive, but we will have walked the way together. And that counts for a lot.

Can we dream a bridge between who we are now and who we are being called to be. Let’s beg God for vision, for courage, for a renewed focus on mission, for commitment to be in relationship with each other—relationships marked by trust and the ability to be vulnerable with each other. We know this is not a competition. It is not about “looking good” to each other. Now is the time for the honest truth.

This journey requires sensitivity and calmness. We must not rush nor dally. We are all invited--our similarities celebrated, and our differences respected. The days of self-sufficiency are over. Each of our institutes has its strengths and weaknesses. Could it be that together we have all we need? This pilgrimage may or may not require one giant leap. Perhaps it will be a series of smaller steps, as together we make the path by walking.

Now is the time for us to call forth the cartographers among us—those who have the mind to make maps. Who in your institute has such skill? We need their gifts now as we set out some possible GPS Coordinates. And all of our groups need to participate. We can’t just sit back while others toil. Our wisdom cannot be with-held. Everyone’s gift and voice is needed at the table.

I recall Jane Herb’s address to LCWR when she referenced map-making and said, “A temptation for any traveler is to ‘settle down” and ‘settle in’ – to domesticate the urges and impulses that beckon forward. All persons and groups, and especially institutions, are subject to this subtle temptation in the name of stability and order. She called us to have “Traveler’s Hearts” where waiting is a respite, not a rooting.” [2]

I say, let’s

“Be like a bird who

Halting in her flight

On a limb too slight

Feels it giving way beneath her

Yet sings, sings,

Knowing she has wings

Sings, sings,

Knowing she has wings.

“I set before you life and death, says the Lord--choose life that you and your descendants might live!”

Preaching, Pat Twohill, OP

Dominican Sisters of Peace Chapel

11October, 2023

[1] LCWR Presidential Address, 2023

[2] LCWR Presidential Address, Jane Herb, IHM, 2022

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