On the eve of the start of Holy Week, religious Sisters from the various communities serving in the Diocese gathered for a virtual retreat, organized by the Diocesan Sisters’ Council.
The retreat began with Holy Mass celebrated by Bishop Ronald Gainer and concelebrated by Father William Forrey, Diocesan Secretary for Clergy and Consecrated Life, from the Diocesan Center chapel. Sister Anita Constance, a Sister of Charity serving in the Diocese of Paterson, N.J., served as the presenter, focusing on “A Spirituality of Nonviolence.”
The March 27 retreat was offered via Zoom, facilitated by Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Diocesan Wide-Area Network Coordinator and Director of Formation for Wives for the Permanent Diaconate Formation Program. Sister Carol Schuyler, SCC, who teaches at Bishop McDevitt High School, served as the lector for the Mass.
The day’s Gospel was from John 11:45-56, in which the high priest Caiaphas prophesizes that Jesus will die for the nation. At the conclusion of the passage, which begins the events of Jesus’ sacrifice, the Lord goes away to Ephraim with the disciples, where they spend time in reflection, anticipation and prayer.
“Sisters, this retreat day is your Ephraim with Jesus, a time that you’ve chosen to come away to be with Him, to listen to Him…to take some time for prayer, and to reflect and prepare,” Bishop Gainer said.
“May this day be a day of great blessing for you – a time of companionship with Jesus, with those around you, and a time of entrusting yourselves more fully to Our Lord, as I imagine those first disciples did when they were with him in Ephraim.”
Continuing the retreat, Sister Anita Constance offered a two-part presentation from her location in the Diocese of Paterson, focusing on the underpinnings of a spirituality of nonviolence.
Recalling the examples of such people as Blessed Oscar Romero, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis and Sister Dorothy Stang, she reflected that “they taught us nonviolence can never be equated with passivity. Just the opposite. It is the essence of courage, creativity and action.”
“A spirituality of nonviolence has something to do with grasping fully the depth of God’s love, and then incarnating that love for others – a going inward and down deep. A good place to start the journey to nonviolence is to explore the love of self and the depths of God’s love for us,” said Sister Anita Constance. “Without self-love, any claims to nonviolence are sounding gongs and clanging symbols, because we cannot give what we don’t have.”
The author, spiritual director and retreat leader stressed: “The image of God in us is the very essence of peace and compassion.”
“The foundation of nonviolence doesn’t start with long fasts and civil disobedience. It starts with you,” she said.
Pointing to the “tougher demands” this spirituality makes, she gave examples of the subtle acts of violence that exist within us.
“It is as subtle as my quick reactions to the driver who cuts me off; annoyance when my opinions are not accepted or not respected; the quick judgments we make about another person, the sizing up that we do, and putting labels on others without even thinking,” she said. “Taking part in gossip gives us the opportunity to spread unkindness or falsehoods. And resentments – they end up hurting us, not the person we resent. They sit in our hearts and burn away our peace. Resentment cuts us off from one another. It feeds division, not community.”
“God is about relationships and connections. Peace is about seeing ourselves in the other person,” Sister Anita Constance said.
“The compassion that moves our hearts to free others from the chains of injustice begins with compassion for ourselves. The just and peaceful world we hope to bring about begins first within our own hearts,” she reflected. “With depths of compassion and unconditional love, God disarms us. In Jesus, God makes it clear that peace is God’s original intention for us.”
“A spirituality of nonviolence brings us to the breadth of God’s love, only by loving,” she said. “Only by bending down to help over, and over, and over again, to be kind and gentle through difficult and hard-hearted days, to offer our simple gifts to a broken world, to keep courage and hope alive during the worst of times; only in the striving for a nonviolent spirituality will our restless spirits find meaning; only in the struggle for a nonviolent heart will our restless spirits be satisfied, and then we’ll be able to give from that abundance.”
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness