Religious life irrelevant? Hardly, and it’s attracting the young. Part of the proof: a new community in WA which is off and running as its founding member makes her final profession in front of a packed pro-Cathedral congregation of hundreds.
By Anthony Barich
Murdoch University law graduate and Respect Life Office inaugural director Clare Pike is now known as Sister Bernadette of the Cross after she made her permanent profession in the Missionaries of the Gospel on October 16.
Sr Bernadette, 30, has spent years being formed in convents in Europe and WA, and being trained as Mother Superior of the Missionaries of the Gospel – an Association of Christ’s Faithful, a step short of being a Religious order.
On October 16, the thirtieth anniversary of the election of Karol Wojtyla to the papacy as Pope John Paul II, Sr Bernadette took vows of chastity, obedience and poverty before Archbishop Barry Hickey in a special Mass at St Joachim’s Pro-Cathedral in Victoria Park.
In doing so, she responded to the radical call of Christ’s that is “different from the way that the rest of us live our lives”, as Archbishop Hickey said.
For Sr Bernadette, the “romance of being a Religious and wearing the habit” wore off long ago, and, despite having been formed by some of the most highly regarded congregations in Europe, she was still petrified of taking vows just two weeks ago.
That was until a retreat run by a local Religious Order, where her trust in God grew to the point where she was no longer worried.
“I realised at that retreat that God said to me, ‘even your yes to me comes from me. Stop trying so hard to put everything into place’,” she told The Record.
She compared it to a bride-to-be fussing over wedding arrangements, not realising that her own bridegroom had “taken care of absolutely everything”.
Sr Bernadette has been inspired for a long time by the late Pope John Paul II, having started under Archbishop Hickey’s instruction the Respect Life Office, which promotes and defends all issues relating to the ‘culture of life’ that the pontiff often referred to.
The Missionaries of the Gospel’s charism is, in short, following Christ in the footsteps of JPII.
“We want to help people encounter Christ and live the Gospel, primarily through our own living out of the Gospel in loving them, listening and supporting without judging,” she said.
“If there’s a need to speak about the faith then we are to share the Gospel in a way that relates to their human experience so that it is relevant.”
She believes that through JPII, the Holy Spirit is calling the Church to reflect upon the way it presents the Good News to the world.”
The Missionaries of the Gospel community currently consists of Natalie Thomas, who was accepted as a postulant by Archbishop Hickey on October 12, and Beatrice Yong, another postulant. Both are in their 20s.
The community is based at a house adjacent to Willagee parish, supported by parish priest Fr John Piumatti. Fr Anthony Van Dyke OP is the community’s chaplain and Sr Berndatte’s spiritual director.
The community’s apostolate is currently minimal as Beatrice and Natalie are still in formation, Sr Bernadette envisages a future where they facilitate retreats, seminars, spiritual direction and spend time with families, especially on special occasions or in difficulties.
The community is unique, “it feels very different from other things in the Church”, she says, and presently has no special apostolate like teaching.
Rather, “ours is a common way of being in relationship with others and with God”, according to JPII’s charism of always maintaining a personal way of affirming people’s dignity and freedom and giving them hope.
“We think we’ve been given the same charism to continue the work of the Holy Spirit in that way,” she says.
Sr Bernadette met JPII in 2003 by chance in Rome, and has since spent time in 10 communities being formed for this role.
She says that just as God the Father initiated the gift of His Son to the world, who then gave His whole life and suffering to the Father and the Holy Spirit springs forth, so too will we – God willing – see what the Missionaries of the Gospel are called to be: a total gift of self to the other.
Archbishop Hickey said in his homily during the Mass where she made her perpetual profession that her act is significant for WA’s youth as she is a young person who is taking Jesus’ words in the Gospel literally.
The Gospel for the Mass was from Matthew, where a young rich man asked Jesus what he must do to possess eternal life, apart from following Moses’ Commandments, and Christ called him to sell all his possessions and follow Him. The man could not do it.
“God’s ways are not our ways. The call to a life of utter self-giving needs to be followed and needs enormous trust that God will be faithful to His word,” the Archbishop said.