“The Spiraling energies of God defy containment The Spirit sweeps aside our fragile wind breaks and with a shout summons us beyond where untouched ground waits bare for planting” Raphael Considine, PBVM
Energy by its very nature is movement and when its path is clear, tranquility and peace are the results. Blocked energy has catastrophic potential. And yet peace and tranquility are something that we seldom experience either within or around us. Pope Francis is someone I admire immensely and for whose safety I pray ardently. I admire him because he exudes peace and tranquility in his prophetic denunciation and annunciation. Recently I read a book, Pope Francis Untying the Knots, which revealed a different nature of the man who had struggled with his ego and his fidelity to seek and find God in the harsh realities of his life till the letting go happened and knots were untied.
Reflecting on the life of Nano I sense a similar reality, a passion and affection for all that is pleasurable and self-satisfying coupled with a disturbing search for something imminently distant and inviting. Both reveal a common trend, the movement is internal and external, searching the heart without denying the truth and extending themselves in compassion to the despised, the broken and the vulnerable, each facilitating the other. For Nano to have said ‘Spend yourselves for the poor” and the “Poor are Christ” could not have come from any other place than a meeting point of the two-way movement of her energies, one towards the transcendent and the other towards people made poor.
A stripping of power and privileges or rather a different way of using it, and a sort of immersion and incarnation are all part of this movement of energy as it transforms itself into compassion at its deepest level. In recent times, contemplative dialogue has become the “in” language within religious circles, as well as within Presentation circles. To get beyond the threshold of appealing behavior and refined language to bear open one’s heart as Pope Francis and Nano did is the most challenging ordeal. That could be a life long struggle waiting for a moment of grace!
Listening to the call of the Church to make our home with the poor and the displaced as well as to open our hearts and homes to the cry of the poor in its myriad voices is our call. We are inspired by the example of Nano Nagle and the movement of her energy over three centuries. The combination of Laudato Si’ and the Sustainable Development goals are an invitation to cross the threshold to let the sweeping energies of the Spirit seize hold of us.
This moment offers an invitation to take down our lantern and not to rest in firelight certainties of projects, programs and funds and get where the most vulnerable are, make them visible and advocate their cause. Perhaps this is one more opportunity to live the contemplative dialogue with the disturbing realities within and around us, to get ourselves caught as Nano and Pope Francis until our presence becomes transformative for ourselves and our world. Recently a religious sister friend who worked as cashier in a Walmart store shared how this encounter can happen in the most unlikely places!
May our attentiveness to the movement of the spirit guide our hearts and feet to areas of greatest need in order to prevent catastrophic energies and to creatively redirect energies toward the common good. When the term “systemic change” is used frequently, it is stripped of meaning and of the power to create necessary changes that will lead to transformation. Since joining the UN as IPA NGO Representative in 2014 words like making the UN “fit for purpose” and “system wide coherence” have become common language. Over the past 20-25 years as a Presentation Sister I have seen extended leadership teams of Union spend time with professional coaches in an effort to stay abreast of organizational development. As a member who was continuously on a search and struggling to make sense of the chaos, I had looked to leadership for new ways of seeing reality and responding creatively. More often than not I was disillusioned!
Systemic change and the two feet theory hold the imagination of our members! With system change what systems are we hoping to change in light of the 2030 Transformative Agenda and the IPA project?
The starting point of systemic change is reality whether of IPA, congregations, ministries, or the socio-political, cultural reality in which we are embedded. We need to ask, “What makes me cozy in this situation, and if Jesus and Nano were part of this reality, how would they respond?” Or “Are there fears that paralyze me from seeing reality for what it is and the challenges it poses?” Vision emerges from the current reality, from xenophobia, fundamentalism, politically and economically engineered arms races, wars and consequent displacement and untold suffering of refugees, migrants and trafficked people. In the midst of political and economic instability is our calling to provide services to relieve suffering, or to hold the vision of the reign of God and what that might look like?
Modern articles confirm the idea that systemic change is possible only when we listen to the reality of our time as mystics and prophets with attentiveness. We must reorganize our actions in response to the insights and vision gained from that dialogue with reality. What role do human rights and a rights-based approach play in all our ministries? As educators do we engage faculty and students in critical thinking processes to formulate their own responses in relation to the reality and to hold the vision of a coherent society where human dignity and rights of all are respected and facilitated? Do we recognize ourselves as part of the ecosystem, and manage the resources of the earth sustainably? What is the awareness of the current reality that will make the shift and the accompanying behavioral change?
As pastoral ministers do we participate with the laity in understanding the radicalism of the gospel and in creating gospel communities? As health-care workers, do we look at the socio-cultural and religious root causes of most of the health issues and the manipulation of the pharmaceutical industry? What is our outlook towards people in ministry with us? Are they subjects whose destiny is intertwined with ours, or people who meet our need to justify our existence? Serious engagement in systemic change will empower people so we may no longer be needed!
Seventeen goals and one hundred and sixty-nine targets set a vision for people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. How can we use these in the realization of systemic transformation? Like Pope Francis and Rosa Park we begin where we are and with one thing at a time, but strategically, so that action has a long term impact. We move from addressing symptoms to root causes and from direct service to policy advocacy while encouraging and supporting others who provide services.