On Friday of last week, I had the honor and privilege of attending the 150th Jubilee Celebration of the founding of the Nashville Order of Dominican Sisters. As a classmate of five of their ranks in the ACE Leadership Program, I travelled to Nashville for the day's Celebration of the Eucharist and Jubilee dinner. Theirs is a beautiful charism which is clearly evident in their ministries across the US (and recently Australia), and their vibrant and youthful and well populated convent.
In a time when religious vocations in the States dwindle, the Nashville Dominicans thrive:
-they presently have over 250 sisters in their Congregation (their largest population over the past 150 years)
-the Congregation has grown by 46% over the past 14 years
-the median age of the sisters is 36
-61% of the Congregation is under the age of 40
-over the past 12 years the average size of their postulant class (the term for those young ladies in their 1st year of vocational discernment) has been 12.
With such an energetic and enthusiastic group, it was truly a blessing to have been a part of this day.
As would be expected during an anniversary celebration, the day's focus was the past. But, this was not merely a trip down memory lane. From the homily to the many other addresses and speeches during the Mass and dinner reception , the message was clear: embrace and honor the past as a healthy approach to the future.
One point recurred and stood out in my mind. A"5th Century monk named Mark" was cited both times the point was made and despite this cryptic reference the message was poignant. One of the greatest hindrances to spiritual development, Brother Mark claimed, was the reality of forgetfulness. Following along this line of thinking, if forgetfulness is a hindrance, remembrance must be an aid.
What, then, are we to remember? No history is perfect, no family tree without blemish, no resume without inadequacies. Dredging through the closets of our past will undoubtedly uncover some skeletons. How can this exercise be anything but scary?
First, we must acknowledge the many gifts bestowed upon us by God. Mother Ann Marie Karlovic, O.P., the head of the Nashville order, said it this way, "Don't stumble over the graces God is giving you, be sure to get them-- all of them!" In order not to stumble, we must be more aware of the graces already bestowed.
It is this awareness that can lead to a thankful spirit. To be thankful we must first be aware of/think about that for which we are grateful. In fact, think and thank come from the same Latin root-- tongere, meaning to know. It makes sense, therefore, that these two actions are so closely linked. More awareness can lead to more thankfulness. It can help us to receive God's graces instead of stumble over them.
One way to grow in awareness is to remember those graces already bestowed. A thoughtful reflection on my past can reveal that 6 extra hours in the Atlanta airport was a great opportunity to reconnect with friends from my past over the phone. It can reveal the strength gained from enduring and persevering through the many difficult moments in my life. A heartfelt reflection can demonstrate that every step of the way God has been with us, not to make our lives/histories perfect but to comfort us in times of sadness, encourage us in times of fear, accompany us in times of loneliness and clarify instances of doubt.
A true and honest celebration of our pasts can lead to a joyous engagement with our present and a hopeful anticipation of our futures. While no past is perfect it is filled, over-abundantly, with God's goodness. Celebrating who we have been can help us to embrace who we are as well as envision who we want to become. This, as the Nashville Dominicans taught me this past week (or actually re-taught, for I have stumbled over this grace at least once before), is a pathway not only to spiritual growth but success for any group, organization, or even individual.
It's a lesson that I hope I never forget.