Orders of Women Religious in our church today speak a lot about mission and charism and at times it is understandable but other times it is perplexing. I believe that using the term ‘mission’ is vague because the meaning of ‘being about the mission’, or ‘being for the mission,’ whatever that may entail is broad. It is an important idea and term, but it can be overused and misused.
Currently, I would say that each person has an idea of what that means in their own life and they live this out daily as best they can. Each order also has an overarching charism that defines them as well and is tied into their mission. When discerning Religious Life you will hear both mission and charism used a lot! Then if you do join a community both terms will be an active part of your vocabulary and life.
As we move into the future I think Mission and Charism is one of the vital points each community has to be clear about and on the same page about. Our communal mission and charism helps determine who we are and how we are to be. It is more than the job you are being paid for or ‘what you do.’ These are important aspects of life, but having a clear sense of mission will help determine these and these should flow from mission.
There is a biological principle that states form follows function. I’m definitely no biologists but the other day my sisters who are more scientifically inclined than me shared this principle with me (again). I’m sure I learned it back in the day when I took biology!
“Structure without function is a corpse; function without structure is a ghost,”
(Vogel and Wainwright 1969).
Dr. Wainwright (1988), a Duke zoologist stated, “Form and function are never separate. No form exists other than as a result of function. No form exists without a function, and no function exists without a formal cause and context.” He defines “form as shape, and function as changing structure,” (p.671-672). Another way of putting or understanding function is “plants (cells) evolve with specific traits that make the most sense for the environment,” (Litvack 2015). They do this in order to survive. Alright enough with the science lesson, but I will add architects also use this principle when designing and building.
Back to our topic of Mission. In applying this principle to our lives—Mission is Function. As Catholic Religious women we believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Our mission flows from our relationship with God and we Sisters of St. Joseph also know and believe that we are, “stimulated by the Holy Spirit,” and we act accordingly in the “following of Jesus Christ.”
Religious Life as we now know it will not exist in fifteen to twenty years. But don’t let this scare you! We are Evolving…in evolution…in the process of creating… When you begin discernment or enter formation you will hear this a lot, you will hear the data to back it up, and hear much conversation around this. You will learn the history of your community and where they’ve been. You will learn the Mission and Charism of the community. You will learn about the Vows and living a Vowed life. You will observe what Sisters are doing today and join them. You will be part of the conversations around the future of the community and you might even be singled out at times on what you think as the ‘newest and/or” youngest member.
Here’s the crux of the matter on the topic of the future of Religious Life and/or your particular Congregation: no one person has the all the exact answers and we must trust God and the Spirit as we live into this future together.
Today I offer the suggestion when discussing the future we need to hold deep conversations around our Mission and Charism. If we understand our Mission as our function than as the principle goes, form will follow and further evolve for continued existence and survival. This is how all life has survived throughout the history of the universe and how we humans are here today. Once there is a strong communal understanding of Mission then communal and individual decisions can be made flowing from this. Transformation or evolution for the future will occur.
God is with us. Let’s take our ‘form and function’ into the future as we continue to read the signs of the times and serve a world in need!
Blessings on the Journey Fellow Pilgrim! ~Sister Clare
Litvack, E. Form Follows Function in Plant Temperatures. University of Arizona Communications. https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/form-follows-function-in-plant-temperatures
Wainwright, S. (1988). Form and Function in Organisms. American Zoologist, Vol. 28, No. 2 (1988), pp. 671-680. DOI: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3883296 Accessed: 20-01-2018 20:17 UTC