The Year for Consecrated Life
November 2014 – February 2016
Reflection On Christmas, Community And Religious Life
by Susan Slater, SHCJ
The Christmas Season seems an apt time to reflect on Community as an integral component of religious life. I can think of no other season that celebrates the values of family and relationships in quite the same way. Even in the midst of the commercialism and glitter of the season, what strikes me most is people wanting to be together. We plan parties and prepare special foods not only for family, but also for colleagues, friends and neighbors. We gift one another with holiday presents and catch up on the events and news of the year, often by exchanging cards, letters and photos. We even make monetary donations and participate in service events that connect us to those who may seem so unlike us but ultimately are not: the poor and needy; the elderly living in convalescent homes; the homeless in shelters or eating in soup kitchens; or the refugees seeking asylum from war-torn countries.
For Christians what underlies the celebration of Christmas is God’s becoming a human person in Jesus, in desiring to be Emmanuel, God with us. God could not get any closer. The Incarnation is foundational for all Christians: because Jesus became one of us, we and our everyday lives become the privileged place of meeting the divine and becoming one with God. We are to find God in others and be Christ for others. For those of us who live a vowed religious life, Community is an arena in which we explicitly celebrate and live out the mystery of the Incarnation, our discipleship, and our consecrated life.
In recent years, the notion of Community has broadened a bit. While we Sisters of the Holy Child once thought of Community as synonymous with the local convent or the roof under which we each lived with others in the Society, we now also speak of the of the Community of the Society, meaning our international Society. Or we refer to the Community of the Province, which for me is the American Province. Yet more recent is the notion of our Province’s Membership Group Communities, those self-selected groups of SHCJ who pledge to meet regularly for support, prayerful reflection, discussion, and celebration.
Wake Up the World with Dawning Joy
Click Here for Lyrics and Music: English version followed by multilingual version
Click Here for Audio: English and multilingual versions
THE CONSTITUTIONS OF THE SOCIETY OF THE HOLY CHILD JESUS express how our consecration is lived in community. We are inspired and directed to live our vows of evangelical poverty, chastity and obedience in the context of others, in community with all its expanded meanings, and not simply as individuals. In living our vow of Poverty “we entrust our personal and material resources to the Society for its mission in the church. Through our dependence on community we both express and are helped to grow in, our dependence upon God.” (24) As we live our vow of Chastity we find that “friendship in community strengthens our love of God, sustains and supports us and teaches us to go out to others with the very heart of Christ.” (20) We are to “bring a capacity for human love and affection to our mission and to our life together.” (21) Living our vow of Obedience demands listening to God’s word and daily call “in ourselves, in the needs of others, in the community gathered together and in those who are entrusted with the service of authority.” (34) Finally, THE CONSTITUTIONS holdout to us a life of prayer that is together as well as individuals. Community prayer is part and parcel of sustaining a relationship with God and discerning how to live our consecrated life together.
Certainly we religious are not the only ones to live in a community. In the “day-to-dayness” of living together, families experience God and come to grow in relationship with God and each other. As is true in families, so in religious life, considering the needs of others and “getting along” can be demanding and sometimes even lonely. God is to be found in the middle of the messiness and struggle to live together as well as in the good times that bring a feeling of support and connectedness. What is distinctive is the fact that religious choose to live out their consecrated life in community and give public witness to a life based on a covenant with each other as well as with God. You might say we “wake up the world” to the reality of the Incarnation, to finding God in our midst, to celebrating Christmas everyday!
Click here to read Wake Up the World! article on Vocations.
For information on vocations in the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, please contact Sr. Anita Quigley in the American Province at (610) 626-1400, ext. 304.