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Contemplation leads to ‘transformational leadership,’ LCWR assembly told

By Andrew Nelson
Catholic News Service


ATLANTA (CNS) — Two keynote speakers spoke to attendees at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious assembly in Atlanta about keeping grounded and the mystery found in a changing world.

Sister Pat Farrell, of the Franciscan Sisters of Dubuque, Iowa, an LCWR past president, spoke of centreing religious life leadership in contemplation.

Margaret Wheatley, author and management consultant, urged members to push back against a current of reactive thinking.

The Aug. 9 - 12 assembly drew nearly 800 participants under the theme of Embracing the Mystery: Living Transformation. All of the speakers pointed to the need for contemplative engagement with the struggles and sufferings of the world.

In her Aug. 11 keynote, Farrell said that on a personal level, contemplation is “transformative” and on a communal level it is “transformational leadership.”

She spoke of centring religious life leadership in contemplation, describing contemplation as “a response to the movement of Spirit that has been stirring in and among us for some time now, becoming increasingly manifest.”

“Where this contemplative impulse might be leading is less obvious. What will be the long-term effect of reclaiming and deepening the contemplative dimension of religious life, of exploring emerging consciousness?” she asked.

Women religious “can only create their future together,” Farrell said, “and there is urgent need to be able to sense what is emerging in the group.”

In her address Aug. 10, Wheatley told the assembly: “We are living in a time of constant reactivity. I can say confidently, thinking has disappeared from leadership. Reactivity is at an all-time high.

“The feedback from leaders is ‘Tell me what to do, I don’t have time to think.’ That’s offered as a legitimate excuse. It’s OK to say, I am no longer thinking, I am just doing stuff.”

Taking the time to consider choices and contemplation is not withdrawing from the world, she noted. Instead, it shows wisdom, she said, instead of reacting to crisis after crisis.

“One person called us ‘future eaters.’ We are eating the future by our unwillingness to use our great human capacity to put thought, and reflection, and contemplation, and working with mystery, which then does provide us solutions, right action. We know what to do.”

The history of Christian women mystics shows an experience of clarity, rapture and complete confidence found in prayer, she said, encouraging her listeners to deepen their prayer life.

“In order to be the people who can be the presence of God, the presence of spirit, the presence of peace, we have to take prayer very seriously, we have to take surrender as the path, and we have to take contemplation and reflection and contemplative prayer as the means to go deeper and deeper into this surrender to mystery. And that leads to an incredibly blessed life,” she said.

Sister Mary Pellegrino, congregation moderator of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, Pennsylvania, assumed the office of LCWR president for 2016 - 2017.

Copyright (c) 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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