When I gaze on this photo of the snowdrops, it reminds me, and surely many Polish Sisters, of the novitiate house in Suchary. Winter there was always cold, long and severe. So when at the end of February or early March we would discover the tiny green-white “noses” breaking through the icy snow, we all knew that nature had been reawakened, and spring was at the threshold. Soon after, we would stand in awe when the whole area was covered with these delicate, but strong and beautiful white “drops”. What beauty, joy and sign of a striving for life!
The Lenten Season, (the word derives from the Middle English meaning springtime), which we experience every year, is also for us a season of spiritual reawakening from "a winter struggle" move into “new spring time”. It gives us an opportunity for self-examination, spiritual purification and deep contemplation on the mysteries of God, which re-generates in us a new life. Pope Francis in His letter for Lent says that Lent is a time of renewal for the whole Church, for each community and every believer. It calls us for conversion, a conversion of love. More than other believers, we consecrated people are called to follow Jesus more radically through the evangelical councils, and to give witness to the world. Therefore, during this time of grace, may we examine our lives anew and strongly reflect on the values and the vitality of our vows in our life today. The more we grow in age and wisdom, the more we should mature and grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior. Let us enter this Lenten Season with God’s blessing, a strong will for transformation, and a humble heart-to truly renew ourselves, to heal our communities and make a difference in the world around us.
During this Year of Consecrated Life, the Pope and Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life offers religious men and women great spiritual and fresh material, encouraging us to wake up, to make changes in our life and be joyful, and not to be closed in or hidden, not to remain a hostage to our own problems, but to be open and to go forth into the world (cf. Apostolic Letter p. 20). It is worthy to mention the main resources:
- Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation of the Holy Father Francis
- Apostolic Letter of Pope Francis to all Consecrated People for the Year of Consecrated Life
- Rejoice, a Letter to Consecrated men and women from the teaching of Pope Francis
- Keep Watch, a Letter to Consecrated Men and Women journeying in the Footsteps of God
I hope that all of you have read them. If not, you still have time to "duc in altum", (go into the deep). Holy Father Francis is counting on us to make changes in the world, by being leaven for society, to be prophets, who can witness to Jesus' life on this earth. I am counting on you "to wake up the world!" - as the Pope says. What do these words mean to us? Of course, it is not easy to reawaken the world, if we remain still in a warm, lazy winter sleep. However, we should not ignore these words, but reflect on and put them in action, even if sometimes they pierce our heart, disturb us and trouble our conscience.
Dear Sisters, we must acknowledge the reality that we live in today - a changing world, in the Church and in society, it is not easy. Consecrated life is at the crossroads and is living in a time of demanding transitions and new requirements. This crisis calls us more than ever to evangelical discernment and concrete action for change, to leave behind the old, and choose the new. Our Congregation at present also goes through many difficulties, and a period of transition and pain. I believe that this is a time of grace for us, of purification and conversion. It is our Via Crucis, on which we meet the Suffering Christ and our brothers and sisters who also suffer. Life will be much easier for us if we undertake this journey together, in unity of heart and in the spirit of obedience; helping Jesus in carrying His cross and the cross of each other, sharing resources and helping those who lag behind, the frail and sick, and the unwanted. "If one member suffers, all suffer together" (1 Cor 12:26). When we look around at each other, we will be surprised how many valued, gifted, capable and holy elderly Sisters we have, and still many young ones full of energy and life. It is a difficult journey, however we must take it, and take it now, even if it's long and tiring. God is our trust and our hope.
We must also be aware of our sins, which damage us and also our communities and the Congregation. These were listed by you in the responses to the questions before the last Central Assembly. The most highlighted were: lack of spiritual leaders, individualism, indifference, disunity, jealousy, and hostility; lack of respect, dignity, and tolerance. Sadly I must say that we have become harsh and also lacking in culture and the gracefulness of women.
Many Sisters in their responses also called for a renewal program, for spiritual and human formation. This is a pressing need in the whole Church (cf. Keep Watch p.41-42). Many efforts were taken, but unfortunately the good will of accepting the actions for implementation was missing. We are aware that the most brilliant renewal program will not help, if we ourselves do not have the desire for change. Where there is a will, there is a way; however, no one can be forced.
Every day of our religious life in community of the Sisters and among the people gives us so many opportunities to share love, to practice faith, to mediate on the Word of God and to evangelize. To make changes in the world and renew our Congregation, we must begin with self-evangelisation, and with prayers of praise and of healing for each other. We must also refresh our Pallottine charism, set our mind on God, unity and mutual collaboration. Pallotti is as real today as he was in his time. As missionaries we need to be where there is pain, tears and suffering, and be ready to go where nobody else will go. We need to hold hands in working together for the poor and never turn our heads away from those in need. We shall always remember that we will find life by giving life, hope by giving hope and love by giving love (Apostolic Letter p. 20). This way we can learn anew how to live a religious life fully and fruitfully today - with a passion and freshness, like our Founder.
We need to have hope, which is not built on our strength or our numbers, but on the gifts of the Holy Spirit: faith, communion and mission (cf. Keep Watch p.47). Sometimes we say that we do not have many Sisters, but what do we do with those we have? How do we encourage others to use their talents and capabilities? We search for the right way to go, but Sisters, this depends on where we want to go. Only Jesus is our Way (John 14.6).
In the silence of our chapels or a special place you like, reflect and pray for God's light on this Lenten journey. May we encounter God in the sound of a gentle breeze (cf.1 K 19:12).
I wish you a Blessed Lenten Season and a spiritual awakening of the spring!
Sr. Izabela Świerad, SAC
Intention for renewal of our Congregation:
Every Wednesday each community shall pray the Sequence to the Holy Spirit.
Mary, Star of the new evangelization,
help us to bear radiant
witness to communion,
service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth,
illuminating even the fringes of the world.
Mother of the living Gospel,
wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones,
Pray for us.