“Are you going to share with us what you learned in Chicago?”
I’ve been hearing this often since returning from attending the Institute of Religious Formation at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. It’s hard to sum up nine months of learnings! Much of what I learned I’ll be using and sharing as I go about my work at the monastery. The following provides some highlights of my experience.
Religious formation addresses the intellectual, psychological, emotional, spiritual and relational development of women and men as they enter life in a religious community. Living in a religious community requires self-knowledge and inter-personal skills as well as biblical and theological background. As a formation director my role is to help a woman develop these skills and encourage her growth.
At the Institute we had classes in theology, scripture, liturgy, ecclesiology, enculturation, human development, personal transformation, group process, conflict management, family of origin, emotional maturity, addictions, healthy human sexuality and more.
Participants in the Institute came from Indonesia, Philippines, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Ireland, Brazil, and the US. (Lynne’s entire class is pictured above.)
Personal sharing was an important element of our time together. During our community nights we delighted in sharing international food, songs and dance, and days off sometimes found us touring Chicago, as pictured here. (Lynne is pictured in the center of picture, lower right. All others pictured are members of her class.)
Much of our learning was experiential. In small groups we worked on group projects, engaged in theological reflection and participated in the practices of dream work, focusing and active imagination. In my groups we developed presentations on the Benedictine promise of conversion of life and on the process of personal transformation. We also developed a curriculum for healthy human sexuality based on our studies throughout the year.
In addition to the studies at the Institute, we could take one class each semester at Catholic Theological Union. In my first semester course on “Reconciliation and Forgiveness” taught by Robert Schreiter we explored the dynamics of reconciliation and forgiveness personally and nationally. We learned powerful lessons from each others’ experiences as we shared in small discussion groups the implications of forgiveness and reconciliation in our own cultures. In my small group, students from Nigeria, Timor, Vietnam, and the Philippines talked about their experiences of violence and the difficult work of reconciliation in their countries.
Second semester I took “The Liturgical Year Prayed and Preached” by Ed Foley. Because of my love for the liturgy at Holy Wisdom, this class was a particular joy for me. We studied the history, theology and spirituality of the church year and then explored ways of celebrating, praying and preaching the liturgical year in our own contexts. At the end of the semester we compiled principles of the liturgy we had gleaned from the class:
- The liturgical year is a form of storytelling to help people on their spiritual journey.
- The paschal mystery is the only theme of the liturgy.
- We need to understand the liturgy of the world to understand the liturgy of the church.
- Scripture, the liturgical season or event, the gathered community and the social context together provide the backdrop from which to preach.
One of our assignments at the Institute was to compile an annotated bibliography in the area of human development. Perhaps some of these might be of interest to you:
- Urgings of the Heart: A Spirituality of Integration, by Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon (Paulist Press, 1995)
- Forgiving the People You Love to Hate, by Judy Logue (Liguori Publications, 1997)
- The Holy Longing: The Search for A Christian Spirituality, by Ronald Rolheiser (Doubleday, 1999)
- Building Community, by Loughlan Sofield, Carroll Juliano and Rosine Hammett (Ave Maria Press, 1998)
- Bounce: Living the Resilient Life, by Robert J. Wicks (Oxford University Press, 2010)
- Holy Eros: Pathways to a Passionate God, by James D. Whitehead and Evelyn Eaton Whitehead (Orbis Books, 2009)
For my final project I worked with the other Benedictine sister in the program, from Ferdinand, Indiana, to compile resources for the study of 10 values in Benedictine life: community, conversion of life, hospitality, humility, monastic stewardship, obedience, prayer, silence, stability and work. I’ll have many occasions to share these at the monastery.
I am grateful to the community for this opportunity for study and enrichment. I look forward to many more opportunities to share what I have learned in the coming months.