Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 6, 1999
Sister reflects on women
Women hungry for deeper spirituality, says Plessis
By BYRON PRICE
Special to the WCR
Sister Yvette Plessis, provincial of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Louis, has been a sister for 34 years and has been provincial of Sacred Heart Province for six years. She is the leader of 40 sisters in Western Canada.
Q: As a family therapist and a provincial of a religious order what do you think the modern woman is seeking?
In my retreat work with women I found that they are really hungry for a deepening spiritual life. They are moms who are working and moms who are at home with their children who feel they are stretched to the limit.
These retreat times are to enable these women to be filled with God and filled with the Spirit. Women need this time to have a sense that they are loved by God and that they are important. They need to be assured that it is OK to slow down, take time for themselves and to be nourished.
These women are always giving and giving. What I try to do on the retreat is to help them slow down to have prayer rituals, talk among themselves and provide input through song, ritual and body movement.
All these processes are aimed at getting them in touch with their centre. This brings them to deeper awareness that God is present within them and that they are important. It's not just a "me" centredness but one that connects the person to the larger picture of the world: This enables them to see that they are a Christian presence in the world.
Q: Over the years, what gift do you think religious women have brought to the Catholic Church?
Many things. I believe we were leaders in the past. Maybe not in the narrower context of Church on Sundays but I would say in the Christian community at large, the Catholic community, in the areas of education, health care, running schools, hospitals, immigration, and social services. The government runs most of these services today.
We feel that we are being called to be leaders in a different way. What does that mean for our congregation? We are truly searching at this point. The question that we keep coming back to is how do we put Christ back into our world today?
I keep thinking our country of Canada is basically Christian and yet many Christians have de-Christianized our value system. Profit at all costs. We have to go back to the values of Jesus and that means being present and educating people.
I would love to see more Christian base communities - small groups getting together that reflect on a passage of Scripture and see how their lives are tied into the Scripture passages and the life of Jesus. How does the life of Jesus in my life connect me to larger society around me?
People have to realize that the Spirit moves where it wills - it is beyond any type of structure and maybe then we will listen for what the spirit is trying to tell us wherever we are in society.
Q: In your religious community, what is an important issue that you're wrestling with at this time?
We do have a problem with membership in the sense of mission. It is not our goal to exist for the sake of existing but to exist because there are so many needs.
There is a process of dying that is happening. I'm not sure if we have to die in a lot of areas before new life may begin or whether that means we die as a whole group. This is a reality we are facing.
Or do we have to die in some aspect of ourselves before new life can emerge? For now, we focus on life and be thankful for that continued life.
I think as religious we are very good at doing charity and I think we must continue in that area but we must also move more quickly into justice. We have to look at systems and at systemic injustices and how our presence and involvement may influence that whole area.
Q: With leadership comes power. You can make things happen or not make them happen. How do you approach power?
First of all I would like to say that I belong to the human condition and do not always follow the ideal. The use of power should always be used to empower others.
However, some decisions from the top down are necessary at times. The goal should be a lot of collaboration together to make good decisions. If the decisions are made by a group, then the ownership is much greater.
The essential element is empowerment. I have to tap into the energies, authority and gifts of the membership so they can do whatever has to be done.
Q: Women want more power within the Catholic Church. How does a strong leader in a religious order of women define her talents and remain faithful to Jesus?
I'm putting myself on the line here, but I want to make a distinction between Jesus and Church. I believe my first fidelity is to Jesus. There are many things that the Church interprets about this reality I can say "yes" to very strongly.
However, there are other things the Church interprets about Jesus' reality that I have a hard time with. To me as a leader in a religious congregation, I am also called to be a leader in the Church.
I believe the Church of Jesus Christ is a Church of equality. Therefore, what makes men and women equal in the Catholic Church is the place we need to go.
Does it mean that women have to become priests? Perhaps not. But certainly I do believe women should be given a much larger role, not just being sacristans or workers in parishes but really being leaders of Christian communities.
Now that is happening by default because in some parishes in Canada there are no priests. They have a sister do all the functions of a parish administrator. They do not have the authority to celebrate the Eucharist or do the sacraments.
They do their administrative role by default as there are no priests at this time to carry out that responsibility. If there were more priests, I think this would not take place.
Maybe in God's wisdom there is a reason why there are fewer and fewer priests. Maybe God is challenging us to change things around so that there can be more equality.
Q: When I say the word "Catholic Church" what comes to your mind?
Two things immediately come to mind. The institutional Church and then there is the Church community - the people of God. My first reaction was because the way I have been taught is to look at the institutional Church. But to me the real Church is the people of God. The two are not synonymous and they are not exclusive.
Q: As we move into the next century where do you see the big holes in the Catholic Church and society?
I think there is a crisis in leadership in our Catholic Church and in secular society. We are getting aboard something that is moving beyond us. There are systems fueled in many cases by multinationals that are moving us to a place where we will have no say and no meaning.
The ordinary person says they want to get off. We need leaders in the Church and secular society who will help the little person to find meaning in life. For this to happen, we need leaders in the Church and secular society to slow down the process until we find our moorings.
We have lost our moral position that gives people meaning and a good sense of boundaries. At present we cannot predict where we are going and I believe the people of God will be hurt by this process. We have to go back to the Scriptures and Jesus' vision of the world which are totally interconnected.
Today Christian leaders and secular leaders must go beyond the structures of the Church and society. It is my sense that some structures limit who we are.
Q: What advice would you give the Catholic Church and secular society?
I'm an idealist and I really believe in the goodness of people. I really believe we have to join hands together if we really love. There are different faiths and beliefs all over the world but if we could see the same God all over the world, we would realize that we truly are all brothers and sisters. As brothers and sisters we can join hands.
There is a song and one of the sentences I find very powerful: "When I look into the mirror I see you." Thus, when I look into the mirror to see this enemy, I see myself. My wish would be for our brothers and sisters in the world to be together in peace. I'm also including the earth and mother nature in this reality.