Beth Murphy is a Dominican Sister of Springfield, Illinois. With a background in journalism, communications and theology, she has worked mostly in communications ministry: diocesan communications director, manager of the National Coalition for Church Vocations' publishing arm, Communicators for Women Religious; and communications director for her religious community. In other ministries, she taught junior high, resettled Iraqi refugees in Detroit, and worked in a mostly Mexican parish in Chicago. She has been deeply engaged with the Iraqi Dominican sisters and friars and has traveled to Iraq four times.
Encouraged by Pope Francis, the church has embarked on a two-year journey (2021-23) in synodality. Reflect on the role of women's religious life in relation to the "spirituality of synodality." For example — in participation, communion or mission.
"It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" (Acts 15:28).
There may not be a congregation of Catholic sisters in the world that hasn't relied on the wisdom of this single verse from the Acts of the Apostles at some critical point in its story.
For the founding sisters of my congregation, there were several such moments. The seminal one happened in the spring of 1875 when our founders learned their departure from Kentucky two years earlier was meant to separate them from the community. They were meant — from the beginning, apparently — to establish a new foundation in Illinois. If there was a memo about that, they missed it. So on that day, full of shock, confusion and grief, they had a choice to make: return to Kentucky and abandon their mission to the Irish immigrant children in Illinois, or stay to do the thing they were sent to do.
That day, after hours of private prayer and communal discernment, they chose the immigrant children in Illinois. Whether any of them uttered Acts 15:28 aloud, or whether it was even obliquely referenced in the course of deliberation is not the point. They were, clearly, accompanied by the Holy Spirit and in communion with one another as they discerned.
Every congregation of sisters will have a similar story. To my mind, that is the gift Catholic sisters contribute to the synod on synodality: a long tradition of oboedire — leaning toward, listening to, and perceiving the new thing toward which God draws all of creation.
Oboedire is the root of the vow of obedience every consecrated woman makes. Especially in places where local ordinaries are less than enthusiastic about the synodal process — which Pope Francis once called "what the Lord expects of the Church in the third millennium" — women's congregations have a vital role to play. By virtue of that role, we have the privilege of submitting the same 10-page report on our local synodal efforts as do the bishops.
A prayer that is shaping my congregation's response to the needs of the world right now mentions the interconnectedness of the cosmos, our solidarity with the rostros concretos (the "real faces"), the freedom we seek to recognize Christ in the hidden and unexpected, and our desire to "listen deeply to one another and to the brokenness of the world."
If we — and other Catholic sisters — are faithful to that desire, at the end of this synodal process we should be able to say, along with the early Christian community: This seems good to us — and to the Holy Spirit, too.
We’re delighted to share with you this blog from the monthly feature “The Life” courtesy of our friends at Global Sisters Report. This month, The Life panelists responded to this prompt: Encouraged by Pope Francis, the church has embarked on a two-year journey (2021-23) in synodality. Reflect on the role of women's religious life in relation to the "spirituality of synodality." For example — in participation, communion or mission. CLICK HERE to read more blogs from The Life series, GSR’s monthly feature about the unique, challenging, and very specific lives of women religious around the world.
Image Above: The Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois, affirm a communal decision during a 2019 community meeting. (Courtesy of Beth Murphy)