"Change is inevitable, growth is a choice." Any sister who has participated in the End of the Year Retreat heard Sr. Clare Agnes Conforti, share this bit of wisdom. Seven simple words filled with such profound meaning. Of the many "stories" shared on the DVD her story of the merger between the former Franciscan Sisters of Ringwood and the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia spoke most deeply to my heart of the very likely reality of my future as a Sister.
While none of us can be certain of what the future holds I would venture to say that in all likelihood the word "merger" will be a part of whatever future I grow into within this community. As Sr. Clare Agnes spoke I could hear the pain in her voice as she shared her own journey and continued discernment within her vocational call to religious life. And yet, side by side with that pain sat the peace and acceptance of which I sit here tonight reaping the hopeful benefits. The small glimpse of her soul that I experienced filled me with a hope and assurance that whatever life brings God will be persistent in harvesting the goodness.
I recently had a conversation with Sr. Maggie Lopez, who also shared a piece of her story with me through which she also gave me a deeper perspective on the merger. After an area chapter meeting I initiated a conversation with her to ask about a comment that she shared in our discussion. Asked to share our thoughts on the initial call and discernment Sr. Maggie touched on the fact that her "initial" discernment to become a Sister led her to the Franciscan Sisters of Ringwood. The discernment to join the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia came many years later prior to the 2003 merger. This struck something deep inside of me. This, as I've mentioned, is a possible reality of my life, and one for which I must admit I have a little fear over. I've reflected many times on this journey of the potential changes that come with so few women entering religious life these days. And I have always found myself settling into a place of fear when it comes to mind. But Sr. Maggie's reflections brought me out of that darkness to realize that while she did not initially discern entering with the Sisters of Saint Francis os Philadelphia she was called to continued discernment when conversations of a merger began to surface.
As Sr. Maggie and I continued our conversation she went on to share that we are all continuously called to discernment. It's not something we do and are done with; we never put it on the shelf to be ignored for good. This brings me hope! The former Ringwood Sisters' commitment to continue to live out their vocational call to religious sisterhood in ways they could not have possibly anticipated when they made their first vows inspires me! And I thank each of you tonight for continuing to say "yes" because in your "yes" I find the strength to say it myself!
It's not just about a merger. Carpooling with Sr. Janet one morning I shared these thoughts. She expressed the truth that none of the sisters are in the community with whom they initially discerned. While the name has stayed the same the reality of life has transformed. Those who spent years in the habit now walk around in contemporary styles, Mass has gone from a spectator sport to a truly participatory experience, many sisters lived together, now most are in twos, threes, or fours.
No, we do not live in a stagnate Church nor a stagnate community. It will be continuously changing--but as Sr. Clare Agnes expressed, we hold the power to choose growth!