Formation Friday – Understanding Origins

by | Nov 29, 2013 | Daughters of Charity, Sisters of Charity

DC road bannerWhat do November 29th and December 1st have in common? Both dates mark the foundation of communities of women religious in the Vincentian tradition – The Daughters of Charity and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. VinFormation has new resources about their origins. … Why is this information important?

Daughters of Charity 

Watch this presentation at Vinformation or at Slideshare.net

See also earlier presentation History

Sisters of Charity

Founding

See also history on SCN website

Why are these histories important? It is important to remember the importance of understanding origins was called for by the Second Vatican Council.

Women Religious in their Foundations and since Vatican II 

The II Vatican Council’s document on the  “Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life” tells sisters to return to the gospels and to the spirit  of their founders. The document on “The Church” emphasizes the priesthood of all the faithful  and Baptism’s universal call to holiness and ministry. And the document on “The Church in the  Modern World” (“Gaudium et spes”) calls them to read the “signs of the times,” to side with the  poor and suffering, and to oppose – non-violently – forces of evil and injustice that oppress the  vulnerable. The sisters, by their working and identification with the poor and by their not
belonging to the clerical power structures of the church, know what it’s like to live on the margins rather than in the mainstream.

In this time that marks 50 years since Vatican Council II, what makes looking back to the origins of these communities so rewarding is the way their foundations can help us understand active, apostolic sisters today. How well they appropriated the Council’s spirit and teachings. And, in spite of aging and of shrinking numbers, how creatively and compassionately they are serving the church and the world in their 21-century ministries. One could say that the Spirit is palpably alive in them.

Many  are unaware that the seeds of post-Vatican II women’s  religious life were already planted years ago in these communities’ foundations, modeled to  some extent on the new form of male religious life that emerged in the 16th century – not monastic, but apostolic and ministerial in orientation.

Vincent De Paul (1581-1660) and Louise de Marillac (1591-1660)  decided that their Daughters of Charity, unlike religious women who were expected to be  cloistered, would maintain the mobility and availability their ministry demanded and live among  the poor.

Knowing this history, we may be less surprised if post-Vatican II American sisters do not live  (“monastically”) in big houses where they’re cared for, but rather singly or in small numbers in  rented apartments or modest-sized homes like people of ordinary means.

To read more, click here.

Women Religious – A new prophetic “life-form”

One consequence of the Vatican investigation of U S women’s apostolic communities (launched in 2009) was a new sense of awareness of their distinctive identity. Sandra Schneiders, IHM, articulated this sense in a series of five essays for the National Catholic Reporter online. Here are some of the characteristics she identifies:

• Women’s religious life, despite the numbers, is not dead or dying; it will survive.
• The three vows are maintained and reinterpreted to yield new life—consecrated celibacy gives the freedom to go where the need is; obedience is given to the gospel and not to a superior; poverty is real when sisters live among and/or work with the poor.
• Community life happens because the sisters interact with one another in frequent and meaningful ways, not because they live under the same roof.
• After the gospel, the “bible” of post-Vatican II sisters is the last document of the Council “The Church in the Modern World.”
• These sisters do not belong to the clerical power structure of the church. Rather than being at the center, they are at the marginwhere they can exercise a critical and prophetic role over against the failures of the main stream. (If they were ordained, they would lose their marginality, their “power.”)
• In contrast to male religious orders who tend to keep corporate  institutional ministries, sisters’ ministries are often individual— just one sister among lay people.
• The distinctiveness of individual communities and spiritualities giving way to a sense of solidarity across community lines;collaboration in formation, living, and ministry is common.

For a fine summary of Schneiders’ presentation, see McBrien,, “Essays in Theology” (March 16 and 23, 2010), National Catholic Reporter online.

For the full context of her original essays along with those essays themselves, see Schneiders’ book-length version: Prophets in Their Own Country: Women Religious Bearing Witness to the Gospel in a Troubled Church (Orbis, 2011).

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