“What does community life mean to me?”
Sr. Maria Grace Dateno, fsp USA
Of all the essential ingredients that go into my life as a Daughter of St. Paul, I think community life is the one I most tend to take for granted. I’m frequently in awe of the mission we have been given, and on fire for communicating Christ to the people of our world today. And I’m generally grateful for the opportunity to take time for prayer every day, whether my prayer is delightful or a struggle. But I find that occasionally I need to remind myself that community life is a great gift.
After all, life in community is not some utopian ideal consisting of a group of perfectly holy women living, praying, and working together. There are difficulties that come up—the natural result of a group of imperfect women from a variety of backgrounds living, praying, and working together. We see things differently; we have different ideas of the best way to go about things; we have different amounts of strength and energy, different thought processes, different temperaments. And (believe it or not!) sometimes our patience and charity runs a little low.
When I let these difficulties cloud my perception, I only see the effort involved in community life, and I forget the extraordinary blessing that it is, in so many ways:
-The grace and encouragement I receive in seeing the dedication and love of my sisters in community is incalculable. How much easier it is to grow in love of God and in prayer when surrounded by others who are also giving of themselves with love, in whatever way they can.
-Praying with my sisters is also a great blessing, and I know that their prayers for me have helped me in ways that I will never understand in this life. I especially count on the prayers of the older sisters in my community.
-Our mission is not something that can be done by a single person working alone. Nor by many individuals working alone. Only by working together, collaborating and combining our gifts and talents can we be Saint Paul living today, communicating Christ to everyone. The joy that comes from this is hard to describe.
-All the efforts made in community life, in communicating my ideas to my sisters, listening to them, having patience with their imperfections, seeing their patience with me, forgiving and being forgiven—all of this makes for wonderful opportunities to become a better person, to grow in virtue.
-The friendships that I have made, with women I most likely would never have met if I had not become a Daughter of St. Paul, have enriched my life a hundred-fold. There are so many ways they have encouraged me, supported me, loved me, challenged me, and brought joy to my life.
In a certain sense, everyone in this world lives “community life” of some kind—in the community of a family, a workplace, an apartment building, a parish, a neighborhood, a town, etc. But I’m convinced that nowhere else would I be able to live, work, pray, grow and become closer to God the way I can by living Pauline community life as a Daughter of St. Paul.
A Dream Come True: My Mission in the Heart of Europe
o recount my vocation story: at first this seemed to be a very simple request…but as soon as I sat down in front of the computer keyboard, I discovered that the task wasn’t as easy as it had seemed!
The first problem I ran into was that I realized the Lord had not called me just once, namely, on the day he led me into the Congregation. Indeed, that day was the beginning of a journey that has grown richer over the years as I continue to renew my response to his invitation. At times my answer has been one of joy, at other times one of suffering, at still other times marked by highs and lows between certitude and doubt, fidelity and infidelity.
The second problem I ran into in setting down these few lines was the difficulty in choosing what precise moment of my vocation story to recount. Should I limit myself to telling you about how I entered the Congregation in Mexico, my homeland? But that was such an “ordinary” moment, by which I mean that my choice was not unusual for a girl who had attended Catholic schools run by nuns (in my case the Daughters of Charity) all her life. The only thing “out of the ordinary” about it was that I had just turned seventeen and so was still quite young at the time.
In view of this, I decided to tell you here about my “second call”: a call to mission that I am striving to correspond to every day.
When I was trying to decide which religious Congregation to enter, one of the things that drew me to the Daughters of St. Paul was the fact that they were a missionary Institute. However, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when, once having entered, I discovered that the Institute’s idea of “mission” was not the same as mine. For me, the word brought to mind visions of Africa, Asia and other faraway places where people had still not heard of the Gospel….
It was only little by little that I came to understand the meaning of the Pauline mission, to love it profoundly and to live it willingly in my own native land. Nevertheless the Church’s mission ad gentes remained in the depths of my heart throughout the period of my formation, even though I tried to “put to sleep” my yearning for foreign lands.
Then one day, during the Congregation’s 2003 Interchapter Meeting, which was held in Mexico, I was very surprised to hear sisters talking about our Institute’s Missionary Project. Look at that! I exclaimed to myself. So we are missionaries in that sense too! And my desire to be sent overseas reawakened with a vengeance. But I was still in the midst of my initial formation–too young to be sent out on mission…. Time went by and the moment of my perpetual profession arrived. I made my preparation for it in Rome and during that time I had the chance to speak to the Superior General, Sr. Antonieta Bruscato, about my yearnings. However, it seemed that this dream of mine was destined to remain just that–a dream–and so I returned to Mexico and made my perpetual profession.
A short while later I was astonished to receive a letter from Sr. Antonieta, asking me if I still wanted to be sent out “on mission.” I lost no time in reassuring her that my answer was yes and so, a few months later, I found myself once again on a plane. I was both joyful and scared because I had been dreaming of Africa or Asia but instead I was bound for Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, located in the heart of Europe! Can you carry out a mission of evangelization on a Christian continent? I asked myself.
Once I was settled in my new community, I quickly came to realize that my idea of “mission” was very ingenuous and idealistic. My dream had not been realistic and so this new beginning was not easy for me. I had to adjust to a change of language, culture, food, etc. I had to learn through hard experience what it meant to really be a missionary. My sufferings and joys brought me to the point of renewing my yes to the Lord more fervently, this time with a greater awareness of what I was doing.
Today I continue to ask the Lord for the grace to live my vocation in a truly Pauline way in the place to which he has sent me. It is mission that gives me the chance to continually renew my yes to him and to my vocation to proclaim the Gospel.
Judith Hidalgo Mejia, fsp