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Associates deepen bond with Sisters

(The following is a talk given by Sr. Mary Alice Jarosz as part of the Ceremony of Commitment for Associates in August in Ohio.)

As I reflected on what I would like to say about the Associate Relationship this afternoon, I kept getting caught between what maybe I "could" say and what I would "most like to" say to you, to share with you...

Jokingly, I figured surely you are all anxiously waiting to hear me give you a lot of facts and figures and history about this "thing" called Associate Relationship, Co-Membership, Non-vowed membership or whatever other name various religious congregations are giving it these days – right?! No?! Well, good, because that's not what I would most like to talk about at all!

Instead, let's talk a bit this afternoon about the "Relationship" half of Associate Relationship instead of the "Associate" half. I choose to do that because I have come to believe over the years that the word associate is more than anything the correct, canonical, descriptive word that needed to be used for the sake of the "approval" of the powers that be within religious communities and I don't mean that negatively, really. I mean for their approval because of compatibility within their internal documents like constitutions and governance structures and even within their leadership teams and the understanding of the sisters. The word is also helpful for the sake of the "approval" of the powers that be within Rome. And again by that I mean wording properly following the dictates of Canon Law. So, don't get me wrong – I did the ministry of leadership for some 16 plus years all totaled and I do certainly understand the need for being proper and following the prescriptions of the various legalities that govern our lives – BUT, that doesn't mean that I like it a lot or that it is life-giving to me, or attracts me or makes me feel any holier or any closer to God!

Ah-Hah!..."Attractive, life-giving, holy or sacred, drawing me to a closer proximity to God" – now these are the words that can wake up my happy genes and get me energized! That is why I want to talk about the "relationship" half of the title we call Associate Relationship...

You and I are much more than "associates" as far as I've always been concerned even though that is the proper title we use. You are friends, which is one very important type of relationship; you are also family, which is another type of relationship and don't say "no, we're not really family" because we really are – are we not "brothers and sisters in Christ" because of our baptism which made us all children of God?! Do we not all profess the same Father, who is God? Are these not questions that have been raised in the Scriptures and then answered with a resounding yes? Did you not become an associate because of friendship or other familial relationships with one or another or several members of our community? And, have not you sisters who are here today chosen to be present for the same reasons while others who may not have recognized the relationship yet have not?

Ok, having established our "relationship" let's look even more broadly – maybe we even need to recognize that we have "brothers and sisters in Christ" even beyond us and as far away as all over the world, but we don't know them or relate to them even though we might have to admit to a familial God-relationship with them because of the gift of our faith and baptism. Again I suggest we take that one step further...If we have been told by various spiritual writers that we come to know our brother, Christ Jesus, when we come to know each other, that we meet Christ Jesus in each other, then I believe that when we come to know the Jesus in each other right here, and then we work to deepen our relationships with each other, aka with Christ Jesus, then even from a distance we affect the lives of all our brothers and sisters all over the world, just like a butterfly flapping its wings in China affecting the weather as far away as on the other side of the globe!

So, our relationship as Sisters and Associates should be having a positive effect on our knowledge of, our sense of connectedness to, and our daily prayers said for our brothers and sisters all over the world!

You know what else? We can't have that strong of an effect or if we don't take time to consciously be aware of and pray over all the things that are happening in our own lives and those of our family, our friends and neighbors and throughout the world. Is this not one of if not the most important thing we do when we come together as sisters and associates – consciously choose to be aware, to pray together, to relate our lives to the bigger world around us...and then to have some fun and share some food and/or games too!

Associate Relationship and the value of the relationship half. It is my belief and I'm guessing it is yours as well, that the relationship part is so important because human hearts long for relationships and thrive because of relationships, because that's what our hearts are made for, as well as for pumping blood in our bodies! It is also true, we have to admit, that not all relationships are as life-giving and "attractive" as others.

In our case, our relationship works when it is a loving relationship in which we can reach out to each other, enjoy each other's company, share the best of who we are, and be attracted to continue the relationship because our experiences together send us away feeling somehow more whole, more holy, more connected to what is bigger and beyond just us. If we stop and think about it, doesn't that just make our time together and our relationship a very sacred and holy time?

Doesn't it remind us of Francis of Assisi and what the brothers would go through to travel from wherever they were so they could be with Francis and with each other and pray and celebrate together? Doesn't it help us understand why Clare and the other holy women of San Damiano longed for visits from Francis and the brothers, because those were such sacred and life-enriching times? Wasn't the beauty and sacredness of their relationships connected to how apparent it was that there was no one leader or teacher or guru among them whom they all had to sit and listen to? Wasn't it rather the joy that Francis helped them recognize in being in each others presence and sharing and praying and knowing that each of them was just as important as the next? Didn't that make their good and their difficult personal experiences so much more bearable?

And, by the way, our relationship works because we can both share prayer and share good times and laughter – sometimes at the same time! It works because we form each other by spending part of our time doing God-talk together and sometimes crying with each other. It works because we go our separate ways after being together better prepared to contend with the less-than-life-giving relationships in our lives. We leave knowing we are not alone in our desire to have a God life, not just a life.

Today is a day of renewal of our commitment to each other. If any part of the descriptions and explanations of the relationship part of being in this Associate Relationship that I've shared with you this afternoon become entwined in the meaning behind the words of your recommitment, then we have done our God-talk and hopefully will leave here stronger, stronger in our love of God, stronger in our love of our neighbor and stronger in our love of each other!

Thank you for inviting me to take this time to look within my heart and my beliefs and to share a bit of them with you. Thank you for who each of you are and the beauty you bring to these gatherings and to our mutual, life-giving relationship. God bless!

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