Mary Ward Week: Final Reflection

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By Deirdre Browne, IBVM

Essentially, we have been on an 8-day retreat together. What a gift! Could Ignatius and Mary Ward in the 16th/17th centuries ever have imagined that their daring dreams would be shared and enacted by men and women of the 21st century? Wonders never cease with an ever-faithful God! My final reflections are offered in gratitude for the project of MWW and in thanks to all who generously agreed to share their insights with us. Also, to honour Christa and Mariana whom at invitation and in friendship brought us all together in a fresh and exciting way.

The context in which I respond is post the funeral of a much-loved sister and close friend, Sr Toni Matha IBVM. A strong and striking woman of Lebanese Australian ancestry, her life was spent in education and social welfare. Her loving influence was felt by everyone who crossed her path. The funeral occurred in the very week the reflections were due. In the ensuing 8 days I found Toni popping up in Morocco, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, and in all the other countries I reflected upon. Was that a distraction? No, for I could imagine Toni wearing the very same Mary Ward shoes as our sisters in those parts of the world. Though Parkinson’s disease for 30+ years continued to restrict Toni’s active ministry she never gave up on her mission of love, finding ever new ways of being present to need. Jesus was the centre of her life, Mary, the mother of God by her side, and Mary Ward the inspiration for the path she would take in her vocation of love. It seems to me that many sisters, like Toni, can no longer cross divides of land and sea in active ministry. They may have lost their stride, but like the sisters in Morocco they find themselves communicating daily with ‘the language of the heart’. What solace and gift we might be to one another as equal engagers in the mission of the whole Mary Ward family, if we put our hearts and minds to loving, supporting and affirming one another beyond borders.

I began to think about ‘WE are this woman’ differently. From the youngest to the oldest, to the healthy and infirm, we CJ/IBVM are all on a common journey, a journey of love with a shared mission. But if we widened our tents in these synodal times who then might be the WE?

Maurizio and Julia’s reflections from Italy and Mauritius respectively give us a clue. The WE are all of us, the circle of friends, religious, colleagues, strangers and people of any age, all who seek and desire the Mary Ward path to Jesus. As sisters and brothers attuned to the Spirit, we might then move confidently forward, model inclusivity, step up to the challenge and step out without fear. This is beautifully illustrated in the open hand sketch by Rosalina of East Timor and in the portrait of Mary Ward in Timorese cultural head-dress. So too in the arms and hands of Meliesa Judge’s sculpture. The outstretched right arm suggests the energy of striding out on mission, the left arm and hand, close to the body, with rosary bracelet half hidden in the palm, symbolises the depth of her spiritual life within.

Leaving country, friends and family and the strength and security they give us; leaving comforts and what we take for granted; leaving the familiar and moving into the unknown: this story runs subtly throughout the reflections. However, I heard no whisperings of self-importance or self-pity. The mission is all about others. Some worked long days in schools offering the transformative freedom that education brings to women and young girls. Others faced bleak, fearful and dark times working in places of great poverty, violence and even war. To me what shone through was the courage and hope expressed by all. Mary Ward’s ‘after businesses I go to God’ took on a very different meaning for me. Coming home after such a day, tired out and exhausted? If it’s all for love where is our love nourished? Often it must be hard to keep the fire of the spirit alight. An image came to mind: When we experience the full solar eclipse all is total darkness. But ah, what of the brilliant glow that rims it?

Light immortal! Light divine!

Together we live the dream and the dance of our common mission in the wise Mary Ward/Ignatian way, but with difference ‘according to circumstance, time and place’. It is always the Jesus story that is our reason for mission, but now and into the future we are called to walk our Mary Ward path of Becoming One, and to live that charism more deeply and widely in our beautiful and troubled world. The great thing is that we are following the Lord of the Dance, and that we are all in this dance together. To God be the glory! Jesus say, Amen.

“Mission is at the heart of who we are, and love is the driving force that urges us on.” Const Vol11 2:2.1

“I have come to cast fire on the earth and how I long to see it kindled.” Luke 12:49

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