By Terri MacKenzie, SHCJ
This April will be my 45th time celebrating Earth Day and my 63rd time celebrating Easter, doing both as I celebrate my Diamond Jubilee as a vowed Sister of the Holy Child Jesus (SHCJ). These three observances contribute to my ability and desire to celebrate life as I mark my 80th birthday.
What did my 17-year-old understand about Easter or about Earth or about religious life before I entered the convent in 1952? To put it crassly: Easter meant dressing up, Earth meant the shores of Lake Michigan were where teens socialized, and religious life, well, the details in those days were all “top secret.” There were absolutely no connections among them— and very little connection between them and me.
A book — that I’ll never write — would be required to explain everything involved in my awakening. But this I know: the changes I shall mention would never have happened were it not for the graces and opportunities I have received from being in religious life. My years have not only been fulfilling; they have been transformative.
The unrecognized walls of separations and the dichotomies that were part of my early consciousness have become what Pat Mische would call “permeable membranes” through which all things, inner and outer, are connected. Grounding this is my living into the SHCJ charism: finding the divine presence in all things and believing that the Mystery we call God lives and acts in us and in our world. The more I grow in this, the more I can value insights from new physics that confirm that the Universe is a community of subjects, each unique and part of the whole.
One of my favorite quotes comes from the United States Catholic Bishops: “Dwelling in the presence of God, we begin to experience ourselves as part of creation … not separate from it.” (A Pastoral Statement of the United States Catholic Conference, 1991) Thomas Berry put it this way: “Nothing is itself without everything else.” Cornelia Connelly, foundress of the SHCJ in 1846, knew, even then, that the whole world was her home. She also had the wisdom to know that each of us must “Be yourself, but make that self what God wants it to be.” Differences were to be celebrated, as was our unity!
Thanks to leadership from the SHCJ and the LCWR, I passionately believe that Incarnation and Easter are part of one sacred mystery that is part of Earth’s sacred story. “He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made…” (John 1:2)
Our origins as religious extend all the way to the origins of creation. Death and new life have been part of this story from the very beginning, when atoms, the smallest particles, surrendered their independence to become molecules and ever more complex structures. Stars later died to give life to new generations of stars. Our beloved Earth re- minds us each spring that death is followed by rebirth. We never stop deepening our appreciation that Jesus’ death results in new life. Religious life, being part of the creation story, has had many rebirths over the centuries. No doubt it will continue to regenerate in ways I cannot imagine.
Jesus, who lived with the knowledge current in his time, prayed that all may be one; I, who benefit from centuries of science and insights from mystics, pray that all may recognize that we already are one — and are called to put that belief into action.
Early in Pope Francis’ letter opening the Year of Consecrated Life, he quotes St. John Paul II: “You have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished! Look to the future, where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things.” That is beautifully true for religious life, true for Christianity, and true for Earth!
No wonder Pope Francis ends his Apostolic Letter on Religious Life with this assurance: “I join all of you in gratitude for the gifts of grace and light with which the Lord graciously wills to enrich us, and I accompany you with my Apostolic Blessing.”
For more, see Terri’s website.