“Does the life of our Jesus animate
us? Do we indeed give Him the
true service of the heart without
which whatever else we give has
no value?”

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

 

“When so rich a
harvest is before
us why do we not 
gather it? All is in
our hands if we
but use it”

St. Elizabeth Seton

 

Rediscovering a Reason for Hope

By S. Tracy Kemme

“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope …” (1 Peter 3:15).

I wasn’t feeling very hopeful when I signed into the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) Virtual Convocation at the end of October. Shameful injustice, the grueling pandemic, and anxiety over impending elections had all taken a toll on my mental health and left me feeling deflated. So when this verse from 1 Peter appeared in several NRVC Convocation prayers and talks, my heart winced a bit. How can you give a reason for hope when you’re struggling to feel hope at all?

Then, on Friday afternoon of the convocation, S. Addie Lorraine Walker, SSND, splashed onto my laptop screen with dancing, joyful eyes and a prophetic, contagious message of hope that made my dry bones leap to life. Using a methodology based on Pope Francis’ apostolic letter for the Year of Consecrated life, S. Addie impelled us to: 1) Uncover hope by looking back and recounting our stories with gratitude, 2) Live hope by embracing God in the present with passion, and 3) Keep hope for the future by writing down and carrying the vision.

As I listened, I noted a simple yet powerful undercurrent that drove every part of S. Addie’s talk: the reason for her hope is God. Of course! That’s exactly what the author of 1 Peter was getting at, and it’s the heart of the resurrection faith I claim to profess. I smiled, feeling a bit lighter each time S. Addie offered another version of this truth: “Hope comes from our everlasting covenant with God!” “The same God who called in the Bible is calling and stirring us today.” “The same faithful God who called our founders is with us today.” “Hope comes from the power of God – not from us!” “Hope is based in God’s vision!” My notebook was filled with reminders that day: our hope rests in our infinitely trustworthy God.

As S. Addie neared the end of her talk, she uttered a short but profound sentence: “We hold hope together.” Of course! I thought again. Christianity is radically communal, and Christian hope is a communal exercise. It comes from God’s power, and as God’s power is at work in each of us, we experience hope more intensely when it is shared.

Addie’s talk reminded me why I’ve been able to embrace a vocation to religious life during these uncertain times and why I believe fiercely in a hopeful future. Looking back, I see how God has guided us through every generation. Religious life has shape-shifted and persisted through countless challenges, fueled by God’s vision and carried out in committed communal action. In our scriptural story, in our congregational stories, and in our individual stories of God’s call, God has been faithful.

Looking around, I realize that even when I haven’t felt hope in 2020, I’ve been carried by communities that are holding hope together. They have given me a glimpse into God’s vision for our ever-evolving lifeform:

  • I spent the last two years living in the intercultural, intercongregational Together community at Catholic Theological Union, where the student body is comprised of people from 38 different countries – a true experience of the global church. Although we had to vacate abruptly when the pandemic began, my vision of religious life is ineradicably shaped by our time together and our relationships that endure.
  • Throughout the pandemic, our little house community of four has continued to gather for prayer, meals, fun, and reflection in spite of everything. They are my daily bread of hope.
  • A loving, generous community of Sisters, friends, and family rallied around to help me prepare for and plan a mid-pandemic final vows liturgy, and several thousand people joined me virtually to celebrate on July 25. What a gift and source of hope!
  • An intercultural committee of Giving Voice Sisters spent months planning a Diversity and Inclusion Encuentro to engage us in courageous conversations. When an in-person gathering was no longer possible, my Sisters pivoted to create a virtual gathering, attended by more than 70 Giving Voice Sisters. Their choice to stay at the table and lead, even when it is challenging, gives me hope.
  • Almost 400 people attended the NRVC Convocation, choosing to “Focus on Hope” and collaborate for inviting and welcoming new members to this life we love. Throughout the convocation, 19 newer members shared videos about what gives them hope – and there was an abundance of joy in each one.
  • For three Mondays in November, more than 800 participants tuned in for Transformative Love in Religious Life: Stories of Race, Place, and Grace, a series sponsored by the Center for the Study of Consecrated Life and the National Black Sisters Conference. The generous, powerful witness of the panelists, many of whom are religious of color, challenges me to put hope into concrete action for racial justice.
  • And last, twice a month during the pandemic, I reflect and pray with young adult discerners over Zoom. It may not seem like much, just a little group of seven or eight women in front of screens. But these women are amazing. They see something in our life form that makes it a viable option for them. They earnestly seek God’s call and live their faith devotedly in schools, workplaces, and homes across the country. They are hope.

In a May 2019 Global Sisters Report article called “Intercongregational Future Full of Hope,” I shared that my religious life is graced both by an indelible grounding in my congregation and by vibrant intercultural relationships across congregations. These interrelated circles of connection have been my schools of hope. United, we experience and embody the power of God, the vision of God, the call of God, the fidelity of God, the unyielding, creative, full-of-possibility love of God. Looking forward during these times that demand our steadfast commitment, we can hold hope together, because God holds us.

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