January 27, 2020: Panelists from Australia, East and West Africa, Spain and Thailand reflected on some of the issues involved in the changing demographics of religious life. Though patterns of age ratios may vary in different parts of the globe, human needs and responses remain the same. Questions of finding leaders, continuing ministries and living in community are all dealt with in their answers to this question:
How should we or how does your congregation attend to the gap in age between our elder congregation members and younger women religious?
Below is the reflection of Life Panelists member, Magdalena (Magda) Bennasar, sfcc
What unites us it is not our age; rather, it is the call. In the Gospel story, the old Elizabeth and the young Miriam are both filled, pregnant, of the Spirit of God. This is a high language for a low people.
The New begins when the Old has become deaf: the priest Zechariah.
A figure emerges as the hinge between the Old and the New. This figure is sterile and too old to bear a child.
Elizabeth, the non-fertile, becomes the first prophetess of the New, and the mother of the one who will prepare the way of Jesus and ours, as well. Elizabeth is a figure that looms on the horizon. She is an icon of hope: the old woman, invisible, taken for granted — apparently, back then and now, quite ignored by the agonizing patriarchy.
Without her, we wouldn't have the New. Isn't it like this in our religious communities? Without our foundresses and those with them and after them preparing the way, we wouldn't have the now. Is the older one of our story the one who empowers the young, also filled of the mystery of God?
Their embrace is a connection of equals that both experience as a dance in their wombs. It is not the age; rather, what both, old and young, gestate that impels us: to embrace with care the elderly, to challenge the younger to be creative, committed, prophetic.
Religious life fills us up, when listening attentively, with the capacity to be prophetesses: "to birth a new understanding of the reign of God."
In our congregation, each one of us is self-sufficient. We have no properties, no superiors. There is a profound prophetic sense of mutual empowerment. The concept old-young is understood as excitement for the implementation suggested by the Second Vatican Council of the collegial model in communities and in the church. For us, mutual empowerment is a fact. The older members’ "dance of joy" at the younger, and there is a mutuality, a deep respect for the others' wisdom and gifts.
If I am part of this panel, it is because my sisters (even though my English is not polished — it is the third language for me!) challenged me: They see the stars in my eyes when writing about what is in my womb. I call it "empowerment."
Recently, I visited a kind of Elizabeth or Miriam, or both: a married woman in her 40s, full of the Ruah. She brings to our community the passion and readiness of those who listen. Married? Yes, like "them." In our embrace, our children leaped in us: We have so much to tell her children's generation.
Maria Magdalena Bennasar (Magda) of the Sisters for Christian Community is from Spain. Studies in theology gave her a foundation for the charism of prayer and ministry of the word with an emphasis on spirituality and Scripture: teaching, conducting retreats and workshops, creating community and training lay leaders in Australia, the U.S. and Spain. Currently, she is working on eco-spirituality and searching for a space to create a center or collaborate with others.