Lynn Caton has been a Sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood, New York, for 16 years. While raising a son, she spent many years in the corporate world, primarily in service and finance, leaving a career as a manager of the accounting department of a Fortune 500 company to enter religious life. Later, she served in prison ministry and as director of a parish outreach program. Her current ministry is as a certified addiction counselor in a hospital, serving women seeking treatment for substance abuse disorder in an inpatient setting.
What was I thinking? My first essay for Global Sisters Report and I'm going to name the shadows of my congregation? Dear sisters, you can exhale; I have no intention of doing so. I will, however, challenge each of us to name, and claim, that which draws us from God personally and as a congregation.
In spiritual language, "this is an examination of conscience." In my ministry in Alcoholics Anonymous, it's called the fourth step: "made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." Either phrase demands a mature self-reflection for healing and forgiveness.
Personally, I think AA's fourth step is more transformative than the spiritual language. Perhaps those with substance use disorders believe they need more forgiveness. Even Scripture tells us those who have been forgiven more are closer to God (Luke 7:40-47), so the short answer is forgiveness is necessary to be closer to God.
Several religious congregations in North America have recently begun seeking healing and reconciliation for the sins of slavery and cultural genocide. My particular congregation was founded in New York in 1856, long after the land was taken from the Lenape, Pequot, Narragansett and Shinnecock Indigenous nations.
We live on land that was stolen and has become one of the most segregated regions in our country. For decades, we taught in inner cities; we had sisters march in Selma, Alabama; we're allied with Shinnecock women to help heal the earth. Currently, a sister brings food and clothing to migrants being bused to the Port Authority in New York City.
We have an expression: "Where one sister is, there is the congregation." We are all there — at Selma, at the Port Authority. The shadow is also true. When any one of us fails to see, hear or speak out, we are there and need to seek forgiveness. We must have a clear understanding of the hurt we have caused. At our most recent chapter, we made a commitment for this type of reflection. We identified our desire to work toward healing the evils of our society.
We're first challenged to commit to address our own role and/or biases against our dear neighbor. Our 2021 chapter direction statements included the phrase: "We acknowledge the culpability of our own biases and our participation in oppressive social, political and religious policies and practices. In response to the sin of racism and other evils, we pledge to ourselves to undergo personal and communal transformation." We are beginning the difficult task of a "searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves" as a means of healing and forgiveness for us individually, for our congregation and for our dear neighbor.
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 reflected on the question: How are healing and forgiveness facilitated or happening in our communities? 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: This mural at the Sisters of St. Joseph Villa in Hampton Bays, New York, is by Shinnecock artist Denise "Weetahmoe" Silva-Dennis. "Wunne Ohke – The Return to Good Ground" honors the history of the land the congregation uses for retreat space. (Courtesy of the Sisters of St. Joseph)