The seeds of tomorrow are being sown today…

Today we have access to an abundant literature that thoroughly describes the current reality of religious life from theological, sociological and historical perspectives. I have often found myself hurrying to the end of these books and articles, seeking imaginative descriptions of what religious life might possibly look like in the future. More often than not I find myself facing more questions. I am left to wonder about new ways that God’s love and justice might be expressed in future times and places. What might faith-filled young people of today create in the years to come?

I think about women and men who have preceded us: Angela, Mary Ward, Marie-Rose, Francis and Dominic. Inspired by Jesus of Nazareth they responded from their inner convictions and found companions willing to move beyond the boundaries of their times. A leap of imagination inspired the radical transition from solitary to common life, from cloister to the streets. I wonder what charisms God has in mind to offer to future groups. Will new congregations emerge whose mission will be to apply gospel values to the bioethical questions of our time or to economic systems and practices or to environmental questions? And what would these new “congregations" preserve from the long tradition of religious life and what might change?

I have decided to write and share with you some short intimations of the future that I have written, stories about religious life in a variety of settings 15 to 20 years from now. You may want to try a similar exercise by yourself or with others; I would be happy to read the results!

These imaginative ventures into the future rest on my conviction that the seeds of tomorrow are being sown – by us – today. I offer you a text by Brazilian liberation theologian, Rubem Alves, from which I have drawn inspiration:

Let us plant dates even though those who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see.... Such disciplined love is what has given prophets, revolutionaries, and saints the courage to die for the future they envisaged. They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hope.

Dreaming is an act of hope! Mary Pat

2024 Imagine ten women

Imagine ten women, each sitting down in her home or office in front of an Internet wallscreen. It is 9:00 on Thursday evening, January 21, 2024. With a push of a button the screen provides holographic images of each woman, so that they seem to be seated in a circle. The prayer center has been prepared by the Thursday night convener; a simple Taizé chant begins and flows smoothly from one language to another. The group is drawn together towards a place of recuperative quiet and inner peace, towards a place of contemplation of the activities of this day. The chant becomes quieter and becomes silence until the sound of Nadika’s laugh emerges: “The beauty of God was so evident in my contemplation of fibers of DNA today...” Nadika, genetic researcher, is the life-companion of her sister, Kim, whose brilliant mind and cerebral palsy have inspired Nadika’s daily search for a cure. One after another, interspersed with moments of reflection, each woman shares her place of encounter with God that day: the programmer, the health system bioethicist, the parish life coordinator, the software designer, the nurturing mother and parental caregiver... Then Kim reads a short scripture from the Gospel of John. A commentary on the text taken from the recently discovered mystical writings of a 20th century physicist and feminist appears on the screen for the reflective reading of each community member. Another silence, and an opportunity to quietly weave the threads of the readings and the shared stories in pursuit of their common goal: exploration into the mystery of God. They gather this way three times a week, each one drawing from and nourishing her own regular personal prayer which has become as indispensable to her as breath itself.

Many years ago, after gathering as university students for a weekend of guided reflection with the SNJM Sisters, some participants continued to meet. Eventually a small group of women felt called to a permanent commitment which they described as a call to bring the loving strength of Jesus, the servant, the washer-of-feet, into their own daily lives and to support one another through individual and frequent communal prayer. Two of their members now own and direct the Sisters' retreat house where their first meeting took place. Every three years the group members gather there for prayer and exchange with other groups of women and men who have adopted or are adapting their model of contemplation in action. A highlight of these days is the prayer and sharing with some of the Sisters from the original guided reflection group and the opportunity to connect with some of the younger SNJM Sisters whose discernment to join the congregation began in the contemplation-in-action groups. The emerging new expressions of the Congregation's mission in 2024 are a source of gratitude for all.

2015 Jeannette, Mireille and Hamadi

January 15, 2015 Jeannette, Mireille and Hamadi prepare the Gathering Place, the central building of their lakeside village. They begin to welcome the worldwide Network guests who are finding their way from cabins and tents scattered among the expanse of natural pine and fir. These 800 acres, once destined for clear-cutting, are now home to a solar-powered, organically-integrated center where Network partners come for face-to-face encounters. Each guest belongs to a partner community (voluntary group, family, corporation) that shares Network goals of using technology to create self-sustaining communities in impoverished areas of the world. During tonight's gathering, participants will organize themselves into interest groups and for the next two days they will share their learnings and explore emergent new ideas. A Sabbath break will follow, giving time for personal prayer and contemplation, experience of the natural beauty of the environment and informal creative engagement with the ideas that have emerged. On the following two days the most promising ideas and those areas needing more broad collaboration will be identified and discussed. Responsibilities for the dissemination of information to worldwide Partners will be agreed upon.

(Flashback to 15 years ago: three women sit before a large screen television in a Silicon Valley suburb, watching the sunrise time after time from island to village to city on the dawning day of a new millenium. The awe produced by this day of 24 dawns was mixed with the thought that had preoccupied them for the previous few months: “we have enough, but there is more”. They had become friends during their student days at Gonzaga University often chatting together after the reflective Sunday evening liturgies. Highly skilled in their technological fields, each had been thrust into the Internet millionaire’s club with the sale of stock in the companies they had created. On January 1, 2000 the three young women sat sipping cappuccinos and wondering aloud, what next? That had been "The day of the Call" as they usually referred to it. By the end of the millenium's first week they had begun the process of creating a trust fund for a new venture, had searched out an environmentally threatened locale and had made an offer for the land that could not be refused. The first “partners” were invited: the group of women, Catholic Sisters who had opened their home to them as students, providing a place for spiritual search and offering some elder insights.)

“The Sisters still pray for and with us and lead a retreat at the Gathering Place once every year. They call the Network a “convent without canons” and refer to us as ‘our NetNuns.’ The truth is that God continues to be the driving force in our commitment and the sisters’ sharing has helped us through a few rough spots." At present 65 Partner groups around the world represent 570 committed persons; 23 women have made a long-term commitment and maintain the links from various sites. 360 self-sustaining communities are strongly or loosely connected as Network partners.

2022 Missisippi to Detroit

2022: 15 years after their summer volunteer service in Mississippi, Sisters Adriana, Ermelinda and Nicole have organized their third reunion with nine other members of the 2007 "Mississippi Volunteers." Several years ago the three Sisters made their final vows. Now they live in a community of prayer and life-sharing with six education and law school students in a two-story convent in downtown Detroit. The university recognizes the students' research work, supports their educational and legal contributions to local projects and encourages the mentoring role of Sister Ermelinda, an associate professor.

The Sisters are looking forward to welcoming their former Mississippi companions who now contribute their business experience, financial gifts and prayer in support of the Sisters' ministry in Detroit. Everyone is looking forward to the presence of two of the retired Sisters from Mississippi who will be joining the week of prayer, reflection and action on the theme: "Jesus, the ministry of justice and the spirit of 1844 living today." As the week nears an end each participant will also assist with the conference on women's approaches to legal and ethical issues related to human cloning which will be held two blocks away at the Durocher Center for Women and Children. The center was established after the 2006 SNJM General Chapter to promote systemic responses to the worldwide trafficking of women and children, a practice which has now been almost eliminated as a result of international education, moral pressure, and strictly-enforced laws and sanctions.

2022 ... four young SNJMs

In 2004 four young SNJMs became part of http://www.takingitglobal.org/, a site that involved youth from 200 countries in concrete projects addressing global problems and creating positive change. They wanted to discover and learn from their peers with similar values. When they eventually began to risk sharing their stories, involvements and religious motivation with these young people, they never dreamed that some young women and men would want to collaborate in a more organized way with the Sisters. Then followed the amazing evolution of globalsnjm.org which has developed over the last ten years into an online gathering place for the permanently committed SNJM Sisters and Associates and the new "Friends of Marie-Rose Durocher": volunteers, partners and companions who share the founding SNJM spirit and are willing to risk and sacrifice in response to the greatest needs of the 21st milllenium.

2018 From Khotso Community

October 6, 2018: From Khotso Community in the Leribe region of Lesotho, SNJM Sisters Mpho and Moliehi log on to the globalsnjm.org website to meet with the permanently committed core group of the Worldwide Friends of Marie-Rose Durocher. Sisters Althea and Yu-lin log on for the weekly meeting before leaving for their ministry at the nearby Sojourners Community in Washington, DC. Sisters Sheila and Dominga, join from Seattle where they coordinate "Access for All", a volunteer program that makes technology available to women in developing areas of the world. Within five minutes, 38 women are online using wireless technology and collaborative software to evaluate their third face-to-face gathering (Fire for our Future 2018) which was held in Sao Paolo this year. The Montreal group, coordinated by Naomie, had successfully organized the content and process of this year's gathering.

In 2005 Naomie had never heard of Eulalie Durocher. The announcement of a Taizé prayer in the Longueuil Cocathedral had evoked memories of her return trip from volunteer work in Sudan. She recalled the short stay in the French countryside, and the three days she had spent with the monks and young people from all over the world. In the Chapelle Marie-Rose she once again experienced a healing presence. She had met Chloe and Sophie after the communal prayer that night and a few weeks later her new friends had invited her to their monthly reflection with some SNJM Sisters and other overseas volunteers. As the process of healing continued, Naomie rebuilt the sense of hope and meaning that had become very fragile in facing the extreme suffering of the people of Darfur. Three years later the three friends committed themselves to live as disciples of Jesus in the spirit of the SNJM charism, and to be members of the core group of the Worldwide Friends of Marie-Rose Durocher.


Rubem Alves: The full poem

What is hope?
It is a presentiment that imagination is more real
and reality less real
than it looks.
It is a hunch that the overwhelming brutality of facts
that oppress and repress
is not the last word.
It is a suspicion that reality is more complex
than realism wants us to believe
and that the frontiers of the possible are not determined
by the limits of the actual
and that in a miraculous and unexpected way
life is preparing the creative events
which will open the way to freedom and resurrection . . .
The two, suffering and hope, live from each other.
Suffering without hope produces resentment and despair,
hope without suffering creates illusions, naiveté, and drunkenness . . .
Let us plant dates
even though those who plant them will never eat them.
We must live by the love of what we will never see.
This is the secret discipline.
It is a refusal to let the creative act be dissolved
in immediate sense experience
and a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren.
Such disciplined love is what has given
prophets, revolutionaries and saints
the courage to die for the future they envisaged.
They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hope.
- Rubem Alves