In October 2020, three of our newer members participated in the NRVC Convocation together with the Vocation Team and several members of SSND leadership. All participating newer members were asked to write an essay responding to one of several questions related to themes of community life, intergenerational and intercultural living and hope for the future. We are pleased to share with you this essay by Sister Limétèze Pierre-Gilles. (For a video reflection, click here.)
What constitutes community for you, and does this aspect of religious life give you hope?
“I vow to live forever consecrated celibacy, gospel poverty, and apostolic obedience, in comm-unity…”
This is part of the prayer that I prayed over four years ago when I made perpetual profession as a School Sister of Notre Dame. Prior to making this solemn and forever commitment, I lived in community as a postulant, a novice and a temporary professed member of the community. I continue to live in community with other SSNDs and continue to profess the “vow to live forever… in community,” even sometimes during daily personal prayer.
My living in community began when I made a conscious decision to join the Sisters who have devoted their lives to be prophetic witnesses of God’s unconditional love for humanity and for the whole of creation by fostering oneness as educators. The decision to enter was not too difficult. I always had an adventurous spirit. For God and with God, I was ready and happy to give my life, to give myself and to give it all. I was ready to leave my family, my friends, my parish, and everything I knew behind to embrace a life of radical service in love. How difficult could it be to share life in community with women who have embraced God’s call to loving service to the Church and God’s people by preferring those who live in poverty and those who are marginalized, especially women and children?
I found out very quickly, however, that it wasn’t that easy. There was a different culture I needed to adjust to, in addition to sharing life in community with several white American women who were complete strangers to me at the time. The strangers became companions on the journey through personal and communal prayer, faith sharing, supportive love and care for each other, meaningful friendship, open and honest dialogue, and our ministries. Through the study of the community’s constitution, history, charism, some theology courses and collaboration with other religious communities and organizations, my awareness of what constitutes community has deepened.
If the words “in community” were not written down in the vow prayer I mentioned above, they would have to be implied. I commit myself to engage in the life and mission of my congregation by sharing a life of prayer and service while living together in the same physical space with Sisters from my own congregation. This is important, on one level, for fostering and witnessing to unity and in the context of the commitment to my particular religious congregation. This type of community living, however, has evolved over the decades. Religious from different congregations have been living together in community while staying engaged with their own congregation’s charism, mission, and ministries. Religious congregations have gone even as far as sharing leadership roles across congregations. This kind of sharing might become the norm in the near future, I suspect, especially in North America, as membership to religious congregations declines and the average age of religious increases.
On another level, and this is what I understand it was always meant to be from “…the beginning” (Gen 1, 1), what constitutes community in the context of the vows is in relation to the whole of creation. It is not simply a few human beings from a particular congregation living together under the same roof and/or engaging in a project with a common purpose. Our living in community as religious is our striving to be and making others aware that creation is infused with God and everything is one in God. Community encompasses much more than we can comprehend simply with our human understanding.
We strive for a world where “the wolf is a guest of the lamb, the leopard lies down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion browse together” (Is 11, 6); a world where we are more and more aware of creation as a whole instead of fragmented pieces of black and white, good and bad, human and nonhuman. After all, there is no one who can live alone. Even with all our mind, knowledge and imagination, we cannot possibly live only with our own species. We need everything that God has created if we, human beings, have to be. We were created to live in community and to be community in the image of the Trinitarian God. We form community among ourselves, religious, and with everything that God has created.
Living in comm-unity is a lifelong process of unlearning the disunity that has divided humanity for so long and that has been a source of destruction to human beings and the planet earth. Religious have devoted themselves and their resources, financial and human, to increase our awareness of the interconnectedness of everything. Pope Francis, in his encyclical “Laudato Si’,” reminds us that no creature “is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love… Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God” (Laudato Si’, #84).
My hope lies in all the works that are being done to make all of us aware of the planet or the universe as one big community. We have been learning that human beings are not the masters of the creation, but creatures among equally loved creatures because everything is very good (Gen 1). This is very hopeful.