The image that often comes to mind for the ministry of formation is that of being on the threshold. The formation experience of liminality has many aspects to it: the personal journey of the person seeking to become a full member of the Congregation, the journey of those with direct responsibility in the formation process and the journey of the Congregation as a whole.
The purpose of the formation process is to initiate the new member into the life and mission of the Congregation. There are many thresholds to be crossed in that process. The new member is invited to cross a threshold from the life she has already lived in family, work and relationship with God and others into a way of life that is different. The initial crossing is marked by a series of steps, tentative at first, but gradually becoming a steady movement that leads towards full and total commitment of a person’s life to God as a Sister of Mercy.
Those who accompany the new member also find themselves on the threshold many times during that process. They are the people who walk with the new member as she negotiates her way through the stages of the formation journey. They are also the threshold people, holding the boundary between the life of the Congregation and the new member and also between the best of the tradition of the Congregation and the new life that is emerging. Those directly involved in accompanying new members live in that threshold space which says: “You are welcome; we offer you something of our tradition; we hope you can find life and meaning as you reach out in compassion to the poor of our times; you will challenge us to live our call with fidelity; we will challenge you to be faithful to where the call of God is leading you; do cross over the threshold…”
The formation process is an invitation to the Congregation as a whole also. It invites all of us to move out of our comfort zone to meet and engage with people who have a different understanding of life, of prayer, of God. In receiving a new member to be part of our lives we are challenged to move to that threshold, the liminal space. There we are faced with some serious questions: Do we believe that our way of life has a future? Are we convinced that we have indeed something of great value to share with those who are seeking? Do we want to have people move past the threshold? We might also need to ask ourselves what are the implications for us if we answer those questions in the affirmative or in the negative.
The New Membership Group
“We as a group pledge ourselves to foster the generous response of young people whom God may be calling to Mercy”. This mission statement describes succinctly the vision of the New Membership Group. Each member of the group is committed to keeping the door of Mercy open for new members. The main focus is on trying to make contact with young women who might be thinking of entering. The group gathers about twice a term and begins each meeting with a time of prayer which usually includes faith sharing. Then plans are made for various activities such as prayer sponsorship, gatherings, pilgrimages and vigils for young people. Some sisters visit schools to tell the story of our foundress, Catherine McAuley. It is important that each sister in the congregation takes responsibility for inviting new members and the group regularly reminds communities of this.
The New Membership Group supports the Vocations Directress in a number of ways. Two members attend meetings of the Lay Advisory Group with her. The group encourages her in her efforts to liaise with college chaplains and others who work with young adults. They help in the preparation for and running of various vocations fostering events. Some members attend Vocations Ireland regional meetings and the annual AGM. And with her we constantly ask “How will we invite and support new life?” (Chapter 2006)
The Parable of the Charism of Mercy.
Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Mercy Congregation, went on a long journey. Before her departure she called together her Mercy followers, one by one she entrusted to them her charism of Mercy. To each one Catherine gave a blessing and the gift of Mercy with the request that each live it out faithfully and creatively according to their ability. Then she went on her journey. The sisters who had received the talents went at once and put their talents to work. Today Catherine is addressing us as a Congregation: “Well done good and faithful sisters, thank you for the way you have reached out to the poor in your time, met their needs in the many cultures and opportunities which opened up to you. Now dear daughters a new challenge awaits you, how as a congregation and individually are you passing on the charism?”
Women and men who have become associate members of religious congregations speak of the support they experience in their spiritual journey through connection with the life and spirituality of the founder/foundress of the various congregations. The experience of those who have become mentors of Mercy Associate groups has been amazement at the response of the people to the story of Catherine.
Presently recommended are four forms of Mercy Association:
1. Association through prayer
2. Association through ministry
3. Association through a Mercy sponsored project
4. Association of couples
Most of the groups in existence in the Western Province would be a combination of the first three but some groups do have couples involved. Are there any others out there interested in beginning a group or is there a new and creative way, not yet explored through which we can connect with men and women to pass on the charism. When we meet Catherine she will be able to greet us with, “Good and faithful Sisters, not only did you live the charism but you found the difficult and challenging link of passing it on to the next generation. Come and share in Eternal Life.
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