by Sr. Rita Raboin SND
In July, I was blessed with a seven-day retreat at Agape. I am a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, having served 36 years in Northern Brazil with a return to the United States two years ago.
I chose to stay in Agape’s small Hermitage on a hill about 400 feet from the main community dwelling. The Hermitage is rustic, with a two-burner camping stove and two battery charged lanterns, a comfortable chair and bed and eight windows, framing the strong trees surrounding this small but inviting space. The woods were all embracing, and I loved it.
In the center of the room, firmly rooted on rocks on the wooden floor is a small, cast iron stove. What called my attention to the stove after a short time was one word, engraved on its side: Intrepid, the call of our foundress, Saint Julie Billiart. Saint Julie said that we must be intrepid women in living out our charism to proclaim the goodness of God to the poor in the most abandoned places. Our foundress herself was intrepid, unstoppable, even as a paralytic. How could this word find me here? The Holy Spirit never rests!
The demand of this call is not limited to our worldwide congregation, though we pray that we are faithful to this challenge. The global crisis in which we find ourselves today calls us unrelentingly to respond with continual, collective planning, not giving up even with the unexpected that occurs every day.
Accompanying this call is a personal certitude that “Silence is Someone,” apt for retreat, but not limited to this time. In any silence, our thoughts and prayers nourish the call: how to respond to these challenges and struggles that confront us: Covid 19, the political divide in the country, racial inequality, the immigrant crisis, police brutality, unemployment, family conflicts. How are we to become intrepid, face- to-face with these challenges?
We are encouraged by Christ who tells us that if we cannot follow His call, then we cannot continue the journey with Him. (Mt. 16:24) During these retreat days, John Lewis left us with the challenge that reiterates this call to be intrepid in our quest for justice. He tells us that together we can save the soul of this country. Together.
In our morning prayers at Agape, we reflected on collectivity, what it means to be intrepid; dauntless, fearless. In Francis House, I saw collectivity in dozens of photos of people who are dedicated to the quest for justice, many of whom helped construct the very house where we pray and share meals. Many had practiced civil disobedience, in the middle of “Good Trouble” that John Lewis recommended.
We are called to continue, even with setbacks, if we want to save the soul of this country, while struggling for jobs, housing, racial equality, gender issues, voter rights, nonviolence against militarism. We cannot accomplish any of these things alone. I project myself more as a social activist than a contemplative retreatant in a hermitage. Then again, I think at times that there is not too much of a distance between the two. It is difficult to leave the world of pain out there. At Agape, you have taken the gospel seriously and managed to share the treasure of its call and integrated contemplation and action in your book, Loving Life on the Margins.
My time in the Hermitage was fertile ground to reflect on John Lewis’ message to redeem the best of what this country can offer to the most forgotten of its population. Through my retreat at Agape, I am strengthened in the certitude that collectivity and intrepidness are indispensable on this journey together.
Sr. Rita has been a friend for over 30 years and represents the bond that we at Agape has shared for our 40-year history with women religious. Thank you, Sr. Rita, for your years as a missionary sister, serving the poor in Brazil.