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Walking with young women in discernment

CMSWR’s national assembly brings “compassionate accompaniment” to vocations

Against the backdrop of positive news on the vocations front, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious devoted most of the first day, Sept. 21, at its annual national assembly in St. Louis to “Compassionate Accompaniment: Listening with the Heart.”

Not that the religious sisters needed tips about compassionately accompanying people, as clinical psychologist Peter Martin pointed out.

“I’m pretty sure that at your stage of formation and Christian integration, you have a pretty good sense of empathy and service …,” said Martin, a licensed psychologist in Nebraska who gave a presentation to the religious sisters that day.

Through their charisms and ministries, the sisters are well-versed in the dynamic of listening to and walking with people on life’s journeys, with compassion, kindness and love — just a few of the attributes for which they are known.

However, in an hour-plus presentation in the morning and a three-hour workshop in the afternoon, Martin stressed the importance of listening with the heart “to assist the work you do with those sisters around you who are discerning.”

That encompasses young women not only seeking information about religious life but postulants after entering into community, novices and temporary professed sisters. For communities belonging to CMSWR, numbers have been stable.

Over the past six years, the number of religious sisters in the initial stages of religious life have remained steady in communities belonging to the CMSWR, according to an annual survey prepared for the group by Sister Mary Bendyna, OP. According to the Mother Mary McGreevy, RSM, chairperson of CMSWR, 108 responding communities in 2016 reported 165 new postulants, received 137 sisters as novices and celebrated 103 first professions and 72 perpetual professions.

“Religious life continues to blossom in the United States,” she said, adding that the survey numbers “indicate that young women today are hearing and responding to God’s call for a total gift of self.”

She defines the trend as “encouraging” and describes it as “a blessing not only for the individual communities but for the entire Church.”

CMSWR represents 120 communities, which comprise 6,000 sisters nationwide. According to the survey, the average age of postulants and novices is 28 with temporary professed sisters at 32.5. Overall, sisters in its communities average 58 years old, with around 85 percent in active ministry, such as education, health care and evangelization, catechesis and religious education.

“listening with the heart” may help improve the numbers, but, as Martin said, “Listening with the heart when you’re an embodied person can be a very complicated thing, not only for us but the people we are listening to.”

Martin focuses on psychology from a Catholic perspective. He has a doctorate and master’s degree from the Institute for the Psychological Services (now Divine Mercy University) in Arlington, Va., a master’s in religious study from Providence College and another master’s in counseling psychology from the University of Kansas. His areas of interest include supervising therapists in faith-integrated treatments of psychological disorders, treating implicit God-image issues, studying the psychology of belief and unbelief, and in the social scientific understanding of religious conversion.

According to Martin, high physiological arousal may make it difficult to understand intellectual statements, whether a person is too paralyzed, unsafe or terrified to receive any message. The key for vocations directors is to understand the psychological history of people in discernment and what he called their “attachment security” to help them transform intellectually, emotionally and behavioral “to let Christ fully reign in their lives.”

“This transformation can help formation in a big way,” he said.

>> Collection for retired religious

A second collection benefiting the “Retirement Fund for Religious” will be held at Vigil and Sunday Masses on the weekend of Nov. 3-4 at parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. In 2017, Catholics around the country placed more than $28 million into collection baskets for retired religious woman and men, the fourth consecutive year and 18th of the past 21 that the collection has topped $28 million. According to statistics from the National Religious Retirement Office, the collection has raised more than $803 million in 30 annual collections since its inception in 1988.

>> Mass For Consecrated Life

Who • Women religious and men religious

When • 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 13

Where • Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis

Main celebrant • Archbishop Robert J. Carlson

Why • Special thanks will be given to more than 200 Jubilarians, who were celebrated in the Sept. 24-30 edition of the St. Louis Review. The Mass also will honor all of the women and men who have dedicated their lives to God and to service in Archdiocese of Saint Louis.

Information • About the Mass or religious life, visit www.archstl.org/consecrated-life or call the archdiocesan Office of Consecrated Life at (314) 792-7250

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