GC 2016 Opening Address

21st GENERAL CHAPTER  - July, 2016 - Drumalis Retreat Center

Sr. Jeanette Gaudet, mfic

Introduction: Good morning everyone, Bonjour, Buenas Dias, Morning Tru and welcome again as we begin our 21st General Chapter in Drumalis.   Here we are in this most spectacular place where we can sing loudly, “Laudato si, o mi Signore!”  Also right across the North Sea, which I imagine you have already seen, there lies the country of Scotland, the very place where the seed of Elizabeth’s missionary vocation first bore fruit as she sailed from Scotland to her first mission in Jamaica.

In this wonderful setting we will break open a very challenging theme; “I am the Vine… Prune for fruitfulness.” This theme was a hard one to come to when we met last year. It was not accepted with enthusiastic “oohs and aahs” but rather a sense of healthy realism! Is pruning just more diminishment? We had already heard too much of that! Nevertheless, it has held a very rich content which we are still unpacking. While the task of “pruning” might leave us with mixed feelings, at the same time, we are also called to look at “fruitfulness.” Our own Elizabeth loved the garden image quoting Theresa of Avila who said, “Our souls are like gardens.”

For the next few moments I would like to reflect with you on the 3 pieces of this theme – pruning, fruitfulness and our connectedness on the Vine. I invite you to do so against the background, not of Theresa of Avila but of the famous 12th century mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, who wrote, “We possess the “greening power of God.”  By “greening” she meant not only that wonderful verdant aliveness that fills forests and delights a gardener’s first sight of spring shoots, but a vibrancy which is the very mystical life force of God in all Creation. From this greening power comes the fruitfulness that is key to our participation in the mission of Jesus.

First – Pruning: So let us begin with pruning. We might have heard God saying, “YOU prune for fruitfulness.” That is our job and particularly so at this time in the history of our Institute.   Let me assure you that in the last months, I have never done so much reading and observed so intently the very particular art of pruning.  At our Generalate in Rome, gardeners prune like you have never seen.  At times it is a rather startling process to watch, one which is certainly not pretty! I have experienced great doubt as I have watched gardeners lop of branches of our lemon trees, leaving nothing but the main trunk and a few stumps. Nevertheless, with a few months of patience and trust, there are always miraculous results when those tiny green shoots begin to appear and then such an abundance of lemons! Only recently we began enjoying the most wonderful Limoncello!

I was sent an article by Sr. Rose Bill that I really liked.  It stated 6 features about pruning which we can take to heart during the coming days. To begin with pruning needs confidence and secondly, courage.  Both are required to even begin.  Otherwise why prune! We need to believe that further growth is possible and give it space.  The next two qualities are careful timing and understanding, understanding of each particular plant and the appropriate time and way to go about cutting. Good judgment ordiscernment is key to nurturing and trimming off the right things.  Chopping is not pruning!  We can be sure that dead leaves need to be eliminated but sometimes it is harder to decide when cutting off healthy looking branches is also good. This can best be done with advice from experts, so along with timing and knowledge we need teamwork and working with others who are skilled in this art. And finally, we prune a garden for stronger, more vibrant growth. The purpose of all pruning is to nurture life, to let life flourish. So 6 characteristics: confidence, courage, good timing, understanding, teamwork and nurturance of life – that is what we are about this month as we participate in that “greening power” that God gives us.

Secondly let us consider the connection between pruning and fruitfulness.  St. Paul learned this lesson a long time ago when he said, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered,” BUT “God gives the increase.”  Those tending the garden need to do their job well but only God gives the growth, whatever fruit it may be.  We are God’s co-workers but the end product is God’s doing. This involves a certain letting go and waiting upon the Lord.  We cannot make fruitfulness happen.  Worry is fruit-less.  Our job is tending with care and providing the proper pruning. But this work is all based on the underlying context of this theme which is: “I am the Vine...abide in me, stay connected. I am in you and you in me.”  Without a deep, mystical life of prayer, all the pruning in the world is useless for mission. We only become machines churning out work.  And all that productivity is not necessarily the fruitfulness of God. The key to true fruitfulness is discernment. We must always examine the situation, the signs of the times, the setting, the quality of the space we are growing in. Is this where the Divine Gardener will be seeking fruit now, today, in this time and space? 

A psychological aside: Another word similar to fruitfulness is generativity.  To be generative is a word used in psychology in Ericson’s stages of development.  Generativity is the 7th stage of maturity which takes place between the ages of 40 to 65 approximately.  (With a little stretch most of us fit in here!) Generativity comes either through raising a family or helping create positive changes that benefit other people. A person makes her mark on the world through caring for others or creating and accomplishing things that make our universe, our common home, a better place. Our ministries are an expression of generativity: teaching, nursing, social work, pastoral care, etc. The basic virtue needed for generativity is care.

If I do not “care,” I’ll do nothing for anyone but myself. A person can feel disconnected or uninvolved with community or society as a whole. Pope Francis talks of “self-absorbed” religious or clerics! Not good gardeners for sure!

Chapter tasks: So what are our tasks here these weeks – how can we help God’s gardening process for our Institute. We will look at our MFIC Circles of Communion and trim and snip and possibly graft both literally and interiorly.  This will require some practical planning and great amounts of trust to bring about the dream that the Master Gardener desires for us.  We will soon invoke the Holy Spirit for discerning hearts and minds open to this dream of God’s mission in the world. God is in that future already, drawing and beckoning us forward to be co-workers use his “greening power to be co-creators of a better world.     

Because of God’s Word in us, we already have some fruits because God’s Word pruned us. How can those fruit be best used for the sake of mission?  What are these fruits?  They are firstly, our sisters, our talents, our love and gifts of the Spirit, our projects, our finances, our properties.A gardener must consider how the fruit will be best used.  Without a timely harvest, you will have wasted energy and spoiled fruit. I remember a retired gardener in Clacton-on-Sea.  He was not interested in selling his tomatoes for profit but he so enjoyed gardening.  He put a little table at his gate where he piled up his luscious tomatoes and gave them to passers-by. What a gentle caring man he was with such a twinkle of delight in his eyes when his produce was appreciated. Are we ready to give away our fruits?

So at this Chapter we are not only charged with determining what to prune, but also how to channel the fruits God gives us into ways that will be most enriching for the sake of God’s mission. At the recent UISG Plenary in Rome over 900 religious leaders met to consider the future of religious life.  Collaboration with others, with laity or other religious congregations, was certainly a sign of the future. “Never do alone, what you can do better together,” became a slogan of that Gathering. So as we begin these first days of the 21st General Chapter, I find the words of the current spiritual writer who quotes Hildegard of Bingen most apt:

  •  be open to the unexpected,
  • believe beyond our security,
  • welcome God in every form and
  • trust in our own “greening.

Trust in our own greening power! Let us take up the task God has given us, gardeners bringing about the greening of the earth, our common home.  This just might be our “greening Chapter.” A great task opens up before us!

Thank You: But before we move into the Roll Call and Official Opening of this Chapter, I would like to thank in a very special way, my team: Terentia, Veronica and Danielle for their participation in the greening process.  We have worked together for five years, hopefully accomplishing for the Institute what we could certainly not have ever done alone. We have pruned both the Institute and each other at times, sometimes properly, sometimes maybe with a bit of drastic slicing here and there, maybe not meeting with everyone’s approval. Hopefully we have helped in the fruit bearing process. We have tried to tend the MFIC garden in our own ways, with individual gifts and talents, and different personalities, but always trying to be supportive.  Our daily faith sharing was one of the main pruning instruments we used. I am so very grateful for the opportunity to work together these past 5 years.  In a few minutes we will begin this 21st General Chapter, and at that point our term will officially end.  So, now I would like to ask my team to stand and come forward.  Please offer them the good round of applause that they each deserve for this time of service.

Thank You.