For my class this semester on religious life and the vows we are each to take a topic we have explored in class and do a related project around that aspect in our community. I have decided to take charism as my topic.
For those who are unfamiliar with the word charism (which I am assuming many people outside of consecrated religious life might be since Microsoft always underlines it in red when I use it in a document), it refers to "a gift given for the building up of the body of Christ." Within the context of formal religious life it is something presumably given to the congregation's founder/foundress that instills the community with its unique identity even today. Some argue that charisms are a one time gift, unable to be transmitted across time and geographical space. Others question whether every congregation has a charism or needs to. Sandra Schneiders calls into play four charisms: that of religious life itself, the charism of different forms of religious life, that particular to an order or congregation, and an individual's own call to religious life. Some articles I have read argue that what most people call charism is really more of a "deep story."
I haven't yet decided which of the pieces above I will use or not use in my paper. For me delving deeper into the threads of community and the passion and conviction with which the sisters speak when they share with me about community is a story in and of itself. Each sister and associate with whom I spoke had slightly different words to describe the same thing--what I will call "Loving Unity." Our documents speak of loving God and neighbor without distinction; unity and reconciliation; total double union, achieving unity both of neighbor with neighbor and neighbor with God; communion with others, church, the earth... We talked tonight, the novitiate community, during prayer a bit about charism and our belief that it is something that we are each born with. Something that connects/attracts us more to one community than another. We don't get it once we get here. I have met some really great women from other religious congregations in the last few years, but no where else do I feel the same connection and shared spirit than I do with the CSJs. It was amazing at the Federation Event this past summer to know that same connection with sisters from not only other congregations here in the United States, but with our sisters from all over the world.
Whether or not I choose to call it charism or deep story, there is no denying the connection that is there. Loving unity. What a gift to try to live.