Sr. Cathy Nerney Reflects with RENEW staff
For Sr. Cathy Nerney, SSJ, there has been no more helpful guide for making choices in her life than the “see-judge-act” methodology that is incorporated into RENEW International’s community formation process and resources.
Speaking to members of RENEW’s staff, Sr. Cathy described how RENEW helped her to ground her yearning for God in the concrete experiences of her own life and the lives of others.
“I have come to see that I am inseparably bound to all others without limit or exception. God continually draws me to others and, through others, to be about that work of freeing one another from the dungeons of darkness and prisons of blindness that entrap us,” said Sr. Cathy, author of the Lenten Longings series, reissued by RENEW International for Lent this year. She addressed RENEW staff members during their annual Holy Week Staff Days at Stella Maris Retreat Center in Long Branch on April 18.
Sr. Cathy, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill, is director of the Institute for Forgiveness and Reconciliation at Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia. She has ministered to small Christian communities since 1978 when she was a facilitator in her RENEW small community in Bayonne, N.J. Inspired by her RENEW experience, Sr. Cathy joined the Small Christian Community Department in the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., and served there from 1982-1986. Today, she continues to lecture and write on the role of small Christian communities in shaping the Church.
In her reflection for the RENEW staff, Sr. Cathy emphasized the paschal journey – from the story of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant (Is 42) to the recounting of the paschal journey of Jesus of Nazareth “in whom all our life journeys find their ultimate meaning and purpose.” The pattern of Jesus’ life through death to resurrection is to become the pattern of our own lives, Sr. Cathy said.
“The story that we remember, celebrate and believe has been entrusted to us. It is our story, personally and communally–each of us and all of us who live in and through Jesus, our crucified and Risen Savior,” she said. “Others are to see that same pattern of self-emptied love continue in each of us who have been signed with the cross of salvation and empowered with the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. What an awesome vocation it is to be a Christian–a follower of Jesus, the Christ of God.”
Sr. Cathy then connected the Incarnation, God showing up in human history and human flesh, with our own desire to meet God in our lives and in those who come into our lives.
“This incarnational truth is at the heart of the mission of RENEW–to help Catholic people discover and experience God present and at work in the ordinary moments of their daily lives. God is here and at work in our story–the Spirit of God has been poured out into our world and our hearts–if only we know how to see,” she said.
Seeing God at work in our own life experiences is the first step in the See-Judge-Act methodology that RENEW utilizes in its faith-sharing process.
“One of the great practical means RENEW has made available to ordinary seekers after truth is a concrete method to see God at work in our own life experiences, to understand and judge the meaning and value of choices we face everyday in light of the gospel, the Christic pattern given us who have put on the mind of Christ, and to act on these decisions with the love that flows from the heart of Christ,” Sr. Cathy said.
She described her decision to join RENEW in 1982 as life changing.
“What I remember most is the passion, such love for the church, such tireless desire for the Church to become more clearly the ‘light to the nations’ that Lumen Gentium called it to be–a sign and instrument of God’s communion and salvation for the whole human race. It was ever so fundamental in the vision of RENEW, and at the heart of our early church, that the way to be and to renew the church was in and through community. The church is to be a communion of communities--a communion of faith, hope and love, made visible and concrete through fumbling yet graced human communities. I found a fire burning for the life of the Church at RENEW and I was forever changed by being caught up in its blaze,” she said.
She then went on to discuss three particular gifts of her RENEW experience.
First, she experienced a heightened awareness of the deep connections between one’s personal faith and the call to community. “These are not two separate components of the Christian/Catholic Life,” she said. “They are mutually interconnected.”
Quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola, Sr. Cathy described how God called her to be part of a faith-sharing community: “Alone you stood before God when God called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an answer to God; you cannot escape from yourself for God has singled you out. If you refuse to be alone, you are rejecting Christ’s call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called. But … the reverse is also true; let those who are not in community beware of being alone. For into community you were called.”
What Ignatius so clearly understood from his personal encounter with God was the truth that this direct experience of the Living God, not merely words about God, was not intended for himself alone. “God wants to deal directly with each of his creatures,” Ignatius explained, and he dedicated his life to helping people realize this through the Spiritual Exercises.
Second, she gained a deepened understanding of the mutual interplay between gift and responsibility. She then recited Karl Rahner’s prayer, “God of My Vocation,” which conveys the sense of responsibility inherent in every gift.
“Truly it is an unspeakable honor and privilege to be able to serve you with all my energy. I must thank you that you have turned my life to your service; that I have no other “profession” than conveying the message of your salvation. I must be eternally grateful that in my life profession and devotion are completely identical – there is no distinction between what I do out of duty and what I do out of love.
Thus I shall be happy to set out each day on my messenger rounds. You have sent me and so I go in your name, not my own. Let me continue to marvel that I meet so many … who allow me to enter the secret chambers of their hearts, because they have been able to recognize something of you in me.”
The third gift that Sr. Cathy received while ministering with RENEW was the “firm conviction that the freedom God so desires for us as God’s beloved children comes only fully when we learn how to die.”
In RENEW, Sr. Cathy learned a new way to live, one in which there is nothing to prove, nothing to hide and nothing to lose.
“There is for certain no greater call in the life of a Christian and the Christian community, than the call to surrender–to abandon ourselves in hope into the hands of the Living God–without seeing what the future will be. It means the letting go of all our control, power, and self-possession both personally and corporately. This is the paschal journey. the pattern of the life of Jesus, who did not cling to anything, even his own divinity, but emptied it out for us and the life of the world.”
This third gift, Sr. Cathy believes, is especially needed today.
“Is this not what the church in this time of darkness needs to do as an institution, in its hierarchical leadership? Is this the particular gift and responsibility that RENEW is being invited to model for the Church in its time of great need?” she asked.
“This is, in fact, a different time in the life of the Church than when I joined Renew in 1982,” she continued. “Then we were riding the great wave of renewal–it was exciting and energizing. Today the call to RENEW is asking great risks and immense prophetic courage to be disciples of a crucified and risen savior.
“There is no way to avoid dying. Much of the church’s present structures are being called into question. One essential component of the gospel message rests in nurturing communities of faith, hope and love where the Holy Spirit will continue to do new things for the life of the world that God so loves.
“Can you see it? To judge and act of this vision is RENEW’s mission. The church and world today are counting on you. I know you have everything you need. You are standing on the shoulders of all who went before you. You are the future for which we were only planting seeds.”