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Sacred stories in times of crisis: A reflection for religious institutes

April 30, 2020 Article 4 min read
Sister Mary Pellegrino Plante Moran Realpoint

A reflection on the how the circumstance of this moment will fashion religious institutes into a new people, and what sacred stories we will tell when we emerge from the shelter of our homes into a post-pandemic world.

Sunlight peaking through the clouds with a reddish hue

Sacred stories

As told by William J. Bausch in Storytelling, Imagination and Faith 15-16:

When the great Rabbi Israel Shem Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews, it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished; and the misfortune averted. Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magidof Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer,” and again the miracle would be accomplished. Still later, Rabbi Moshe-leibof Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say, “I do not know how to light the fire. I do not know the prayer, but I know the place, and this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished. Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhynto overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire, and I do not know the prayer, and I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient.

Like God’s grace, the story is sufficient to avert disaster, to accomplish a miracle, to save a people.

Paschal Triduum

Every liturgical directive and rubric instructs that the liturgies of Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum, the holiest days of the Christian calendar, are to be celebrated with powerful and dramatic rituals, gestures, symbols, and sacramentals to engage our every sense so that there is no mistaking that the saving and freeing power of Christ’s triumph over sin and death has permeated every aspect of our human experience, and of creation.

That will not happen this year. The vast majority of us will have only virtual access if any to the sights, songs, symbols, and most importantly, the sacraments of these days.
We will, though, wherever we are, tell the story.

During these extraordinary days when the Body of Christ, all across the globe, is quarantined, our movements restricted, our liturgies cancelled, our sacraments suspended, still we tell the saving story. Our saving story is not a descriptive narrative of chronological events telling a tale of what happened. Ours is a sacramental story, circuitous at times, revealing not merely what happened, but what happened to us and in us and through us. Ours is a tale of grace unbound.

The stories of the Paschal Triduum — our saving stories — are stories of becoming and transformation. They are stories of creation and new life, freedom from isolation and fear, healing, light, fullness and abundance, prayers and songs, and miracles. They are stories of oppressive injustice and the triumph of compassion and mercy; stories of betrayal, forgiveness and covenants. They are stories of dry and brittle bones springing back to life, springs of water bringing forth lush gardens, tears turned into laughter and fear turned into freedom. They are stories of service and of suffering. They are stories of people fashioned into a new people, reconstituted in the desert by hardship and sacrifice, wandering and wondering. They are stories of inconceivable new life following unimaginable loss and paralyzing grief.

These have always been our stories, and in this moment of global uncertainty, we need them now more than ever, along with the truths to which they point and the questions which they raise.

As a global community, as a country, as a church, as religious institutes we will be changed forever by the experience and impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic. It is our deepest hope that this crisis will fashion us into a new people — a new global community that recognizes the interconnectedness of all creation, the dignity of all people, and the need to eradicate economic exploitation and immoral disparities in opportunity and access to the essentials of life.

Even as we shelter in place, we know that you, too, are concerned not only about the health and well-being of your sisters, but also about the health and well-being of your institute. We know that you are concerned about the planning and considerations for the future of your institute that are underway and the short- and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on those plans and considerations. We know that you are likely wondering how your institute will be changed by this crisis.

As we continue to work on your behalf and on behalf of other religious institutes, we have been considering those questions in light of both the challenges and opportunities a post-pandemic world will present to your mission, charism, and the use of your resources.

We wonder how the grace and circumstance of this moment will fashion all of us into a new people and what sacred stories we will write and tell when we emerge from the shelter of our homes into a post-pandemic world.

Consider how God’s grace acting on the circumstances of this moment might transform us into a new global community, a new country, a new Church, new religious institutes:

  • How are you being transformed at this time?
  • How might your institute be transformed?
  • What role do you and your institute want to play in bringing about a new global community, a new country, a new church in a post-pandemic world?
  • What saving, sacramental stories do you want to tell about yourself and your institute when this time is over?
  • What do you want to say happened to you, in you and through you?
  • What chapters of those stories are you writing right now?

Please know that our prayers and thoughts are with you during these uncertain times. Please reach out to let us know how we can help.

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