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franciscan - January 1997

© The Society of Saint Francis, 1996

Minister's Letter

Sister Joyce, Minister Provincial of the First Order Sisters in the European Province, writes:

On becoming a Minister, I find myself in quite a challenging role! It feels scary and exciting at the same time. I am deeply conscious of the strong foundations that have been laid by past leaders of the Community, and especially of my predecessor, Nan, during whose time as Minister we initiated the Provincial Review: of where we have been as a group of Religious women in a still largely-patriarchal Church. But the future, I hope, may be even brighter than orange! Right now, it feels to me to be more like the poet Adrienne Rich describes:

The rules break like a thermometer,
quicksilver spills across the charted systems,
we’re out in a country that has no language,
no laws, we’re chasing the raven and the wren
through gorges unexplored since dawn
whatever we do together is pure invention
the maps they gave us were out of date
by years . . .

The fruits of the wrestling we have done as a consequence of the Provincial Review Report are now beginning to ripen. From this has emerged a new solidarity; a clearer sense of vision for our houses and our Province; energy has been released for mission.
The fragility and vulnerability are still there. We can still limp like Jacob, but also know that, in the all-night struggle, God has richly blessed us.

I happened to be present at Southwark Cathedral when the beautiful memorial to those who died in the Marchioness disaster on the Thames some years ago, was blessed by the Provost. It was a moving experience to witness the number of relations and friends who had gathered to remember their loved ones, whose names are now etched in stone, with the appropriate inscription from the Song of Songs: Many waters cannot quench love . . . This group of people have undoubtedly struggled with God to make sense of their tragic and sudden loss, for justice in finding out what really went wrong that night, when so many young people died because they happened to attend a friend’s birthday party. They are still limping in their grief – I pray they may receive God’s blessing too.

Reflecting on the theme of franciscan, the same image emerged of Jacob wrestling with God through the night. For whether we come, stay or leave the community, we can only discern the way forward on our pilgrimage after we have struggled, usually well beyond all night, with God. As Minister, I have no doubt there will be more struggling to come for me and for the Province. Exactly what those issues will be are hidden in the mind of God.

As we celebrate this Christmas, may we give thanks once again for the gift of God’s Son, the Word made flesh, and may the New Year bring many blessings. §


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