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Sisters and Associates Celebrate Community Weekend 2009
by Sister Mary Rose Noonan, CSJ
Approximately, 300 Sisters of St. Joseph and CSJ Associates gathered at the Provincial House in Latham, October 16-17, 2009, for their annual Community Weekend. The theme of this year's event was “Fidelity to Grace as God’s Call Unfolds.”
Sister Kathleen McCluskey, a Sister of St. Joseph of Boston and executive director of the United States Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph, was the presenter for the weekend.
With her inimitable imitation of Edith Ann (Lily Tomlin) and her weaving of prayer, Scripture and poetry, Sister Kathy discussed grace as being attentive to every moment; praying, trusting and readying ourselves for whatever happens; developing an attitude of profound hope, a hope that is “bigger” than the events of any one day. “Grace,” said Sister Kathy, “has to do with being seized by God’s love.” It is grace that makes it possible for us to participate in God’s plan for us; it is grace that makes us able to move into God’s love; it is grace that empowers us to move beyond ourselves to serve a world in need; it is grace that is at the heart of our spirituality and enables us to be aligned to God’s will.
Sister Kathy called us to reflect on the Maxims, the word guides given to us by Father Jean Pierre Médaille, SJ, who founded the Sisters of St. Joseph in Le Puy, France, in 1650. Father Médaille said simply, “Be very faithful to the grace of the Holy Spirit” (Maxim 15) and named as essential to our vocation “a very faithful obedience to all the movements of grace” (Maxim 100).
What does fidelity to grace mean on our journey to God? That fidelity, said Sister Kathy, “is the unending work of our lifetime.” Once again, Father Médaille helps us in this understanding: “Live your life with one desire only—to be always what God wants you to be in nature, grace and glory, for time and eternity” (Maxim 73). Fidelity to grace does not limit itself to rule and duty but emphasizes relationship(s) in our daily living—relationships with God, one another and the dear neighbor. Grace calls us to contemplate the mystery of those relationships as encounters with God who calls us to service.
Our tradition as Christians and as Sisters of Sr. Joseph, according to Sister Kathy, tells us that we want our love to be like God’s love: self-emptying, attuned to God’s will, compassionate, animating, all-inclusive, zealous and hungry for unity and justice. Father Médaille describes how we can direct ourselves to this love: “Be utterly given to God by a holy self-surrender; utterly for God by a love completely pure and unselfish; utterly in God by a continuing effort to be in God’s presence; utterly according to God by a will, a life and everything conformed to God” (Maxim 24)
Sister Kathy then directed us to reflect on our own individual history of grace, to get in touch with our own stories of God’s presence in each of us in particular moments and to ask such questions as: “How did God’s grace manifest itself?” “What did it look like?” “How did I respond?” “What did I learn about God’s grace?”
Finally, we reflected together on our communal grace through such questions as: “As a congregation, have we been and are we continuing to be faithful to God’s grace?” “Has our fidelity made our love like God’s love—large, inclusive, welcoming, animating?” In the answers to those questions, said Sister Kathy, lies our integrity.
We concluded the two-day gathering with a Mass, celebrated by Father Neil Draves-Arpaia, and another opportunity to reflect on God’s grace as it comes to us through the Scriptures and the Eucharist. As we returned home and to our places of ministry, we went consoled and challenged by our founder’s words: “Never go ahead of grace … but quietly await its movements and, when grace comes to you, go along with it with great gentleness, humility, fidelity and courage” (Maxim 84).