Reflections on My 50th Year of Vowed Life as an F.I.

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As I turn the pages of the book of memories in my heart and mind, the three points in the recent Apostolic Letter of Pope Francis to Consecrated Men and Women Religious, strike a deep resonance in me.These are: looking at the past with gratitude; living the present with passion; and, embracing the future with hope.

 

LOOKING AT THE PAST WITH GRATITUDE:
I confess it is not easy to synthesize in a nutshell my 50 years as a religious and share it with you. So I want to be brief and will focus more on the recent past without overlooking the vital role of my natural family, the Hijas de Jesus Congregation (especially our 3 Superiors General with whom I served), F.I. sisters, teachers, friends and other significant figures who have helped me become the person and religious I am today. To each one of them I owe undying gratitude.
MY STORY IS GOD’S STORY… This seems to aptly summarize my life from childhood to the 26 years of assignment in Rome and up to the present. It has been an awesome experience to see how God has worked with the weft and woof of my life and to realize that… nothing, absolutely nothing has been wasted in my personal journey: weaknesses, failures, sinfulness, frustrations, crises, pains, difficulties,   etc.  realities and situations I would have wanted to avoid or escape from but could not and did not… And God used them all to weave my story into his very own.
I worked for fifteen and a half years in our General Secretariat in Rome, combining it with other tasks like attending to two elderly sisters, taking charge of the chapel, serving at the information desk, doing house chores or simply enjoying the garden . The first 5 years of intense aloneness found relief in visits to the then ailing Fr. Pedro Arrupe, former Superior General of the Jesuits,  whose quiet presence in the midst of suffering gave me strength and patience in embracing my own loneliness. Years after his death, I had the joy and privilege of serving the organization he founded to assist refugees and the displaced.   Another sustaining source not only of relief but also of mutual enrichment, support and strength was the group of pastoral workers in our ministry with the OFWs.  A good number of them are here today to join me in joyful thanksgiving for God’s love and faithfulness. My dear companions and friends in the Lord, thank you for the gift of your presence in my life; thank you for your friendship through the years …  

SOME PHOTOS DURING THE EVENT...

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Cardinal Chito Tagle, Main celebrant, and some Jesuit Friends concelebrating

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Sr. Bema renews her vows ...

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Sr. Bema shares her story...

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A hug from the Provincial, Sr. Thelma Barbarona

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A special moment with the Cardinal...

Posing with some friends...relatives...

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her community

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The best time of my sojourn in Rome, the last 11 years,  were with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), the Jesuit international NGO founded by Fr. Pedro Arrupe of revered and loving memory, whose aim is to accompany and serve the refugees and the displaced and to advocate their cause.  A mission in the frontiers, it made me experience and witness the horrendous effects of violence and war in Rwanda and in the Balkans. Listening to refugees tell their stories, accompanying or simply finding temporary shelters for them effected a lot of paradigm shifts; it was a major conversion experience for me.
Grateful remembering leads me to LIVING THE PRESENT WITH PASSION. During the retreat to prepare myself for this milestone event, I was helped through a lot of reckoning. It was awesome but humbling to discover that, with God’s grace and the power of the Spirit, the realities, persons, relationships and experiences I have mentioned are the very ones that have now become fuel for my fire, wind beneath my wings. Once again, there was this deep realization of who I really am: a SINNER, yes, and I say this stemming from the very core of my being – SINNER, undeserving, but lavished with so much love… touched, forgiven, healed, transformed .. and the process goes on and on... God is not done with me yet!  
At 75, I don’t expect to carry out the multi-tasks when I was young and thirty. But yes, I find a deep sense of meaning in most everything, in the ordinariness of daily life, in anything I am called on to do.  Things seem to be falling into place and, more than ever now, it is easier to touch the depths where there is serenity and inner peace. That is a precious and gratuitous gift I do not deserve and I deeply thank the Lord for it.
If there is something I passionately desire at this stage of my life, it is to live my identity as an Hija de Jesus to the full. To love Jesus as my first and only love …for it is only in loving him thus that I will be empowered to allow others to find their home in my own heart. To  continually build relationships so that the circle of connectedness may expand in greater inclusion especially toward the least, the last and the lost. As Pope Francis asserts: “Living the present with passion means becoming experts in communion, witnesses and architects of the plan for unity.” Would that our encounters and relationships become tangible experiences of God’s loving and compassionate presence in our midst!
The NOW for me is BUHOS BUHAY, TODO TANGGAP, TODO BIGAY… and I count mainly on grace not merely on my own efforts.   

EMBRACING THE FUTURE WITH HOPE. How much time is left for me? 5, 10, 15, 20 years? Some people have told me I might even reach my diamond jubilee!
Actually I was in desolation for one whole day when I reflected and prayed on this issue. There is so much brokenness and chaos around us in all segments of our society and life.  The moments of desolation grew in momentum with the thought that Fr. Prem, an Indian Jesuit and JRS volunteer in Kabul, is still being held captive by the ISIS. He was abducted in August. Two others were kidnapped before him and the ISIS brutally killed both.
For sometime I needed to listen repeatedly to the song we had as responsorial psalm to assuage the fear starting to grip me.  “Be not afraid… I am with you  When you pass through waters that rage, in the rivers you shall not drown; walk through fire and its flames will not consume you, … for I am God”. That assurance was enough to rekindle my dwindling hope.
And it is not coincidence that I now find myself among our young sisters who are three or four decades younger than I.  Though few in number, they hold so much promise and hope for the future of the Congregation. Journeying with them – they with their energy and enthusiasm, and I with my experience and the wisdom that age brings, - we can together go forth to proclaim the primacy of God, the reason of our hope … and witness him with our lives; to explore horizons for the new evangelization in response to the pressing needs of the Church and the world today.
It is providential that this occasion falls in Advent, the season of hopeful waiting, the time for prayerful hope. I cannot end this sharing without casting a grateful glance on Mary, our Blessed Mother, model of patient waiting, of vibrant hope. Her maternal gaze has followed and guided me throughout life. “Our Star along the way”, as St. Candida Ma. de Jesus would address her, is showering abundant blessings on me today. I ask her to let them flow unto you, to your families and loved ones. May she continue lighting our path to the Father and place us with her Son, Jesus.
THANK YOU!

Sr. Bema Solis, F.I.