Reading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's "doctrinal assessment" of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, I found it to be an encouraging document. Many of the concerns it notes are issues that have been troubling to me at times in my own experience of religious life: a "diminution of the fundamental Christological center," a sense of moving beyond the Church or even Jesus Christ, and a presumption of dissent from the Church's teachings on the sacraments and sexuality.
When I was first in religious life I found such things terribly confusing. In my innocence I had presumed that Catholic teaching would be a given in Catholic religious life. I learned, with much anguished confusion, that this wasn't always the case. My confusion was so bad that it contributed to my having to leave my first entrance to religious life after a year and a half.
After that, I confess that I gave in a little bit. My first experiences of religious life had taught me to disregard my instincts somewhat. In my second attempt at religious life, I think I sometimes conformed to the madness in order to have this vocation that I wanted. In studying for ordination, I'm sure I many times said and wrote the politically correct thing instead of the right thing. When we were made daily to recite texts from a feminist prayer book, I probably should have been praying Morning and Evening Prayer from some proper edition of the Liturgy of the Hours on my own, but I wasn't.
It's taken me a while to recover my senses again, but I think I have, more or less, and I'm grateful to God and to many who have given me good example.
But as we are grateful for a document such as this, and pray for our bishops in such difficult and delicate ministries, we have to be very careful. In praying through all this a scene from the past came into my heart. It was during the days when I was discerning my return to religious life. I had gone to spend time in the house of temporary vows of a certain community. On the same day I arrived to hang out and pray and observe for a few days, the brothers in formation were just returning from some workshop. That evening at recreation their fun was the unmerciful mocking of the woman who had been the presenter. The guy who was the ringleader in this, utterly self-righteous in his orthodoxy, kept repeating with derision how this presenter described herself. I can't remember the whole thing, but I do remember that it ended with 'ecofeminist process theologian.' Pompous, yes, but the way these guys were mocking this person, it really turned me off.
The devil is very happy for us to be right, so long as he can use our rightness for his own ends. And many times we fail to take seriously how good he is at doing just that.
I write this post from a room in a building that used to be a convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph. They taught in the building across the street. It used to be a school, but now the school is closed and the building is mostly empty and unused. The sisters who prayed and slept in this room where I sit today probably worked harder for those kids than I have ever worked for anything. They were the force of one of the most glorious and successful movements of social uplift that human civilization has ever seen, the Catholic school system in the growing United States.
As a religious, am I part of anything that could compare with that?
Or am I, and mainstream male religious life in general, more concerned with my comfort, security, and lifestyle expectations than with the mission of Jesus Christ? May that thought pierce my conscience each time I find myself watching TV with a beer and box of Cheez-Its in the room where sisters would have labored at laundry either before or after a long day of teaching and service.
Therefore, and on this day when we celebrate the anniversary of the election of our holy father Benedict XVI, let us be grateful for a Church that is recovering her bearings in the truth of her faith, but let us also let God heal us from the lukewarmness and decadence that keeps us from letting God make something of it.
My hope and prayer is that these women will repent and be converted, however too many of them are so far gone, truly believing they are prophets, as they have declared themselves for years at LCWR annual conferences. Like the Pharisees, they have created their own legal fictions like, "responsible dissent," to assuage their consciences.
In some ways I can't fully blame the sisters. They were encouraged by many bishops and priests over the last 45 years to continue down this path. And rather than disciplined or taken to task, they were elevated to important positions within diocesan offices, hospitals, universities, seminaries and so forth. I find it hard to believe the heads of the LCWR are "shocked" at this news, but perhaps they truly are, after decades of being rewarded for disobedience.
Nonetheless, it will be an interesting showdown. Who will be left standing when this is all said and done?
-Ryan J Hilliard
This was a thought-provoking post, Father Charles. We can all hope and pray that these women accept this decision and work to reform the organization. I am skeptical. I agree with the other poster that they are too far gone. In the parish where I belong there are more than a dozen sisters who have abandoned the convents of their order and live in apartments of two or three. Many of them work in secular jobs and support themselves and remit a portion of their salary to their order. They get to decide if another sister can join their apartment based on her ability to financially contribute. How can this be consistent with the charism of their foundress, who was a great educator and a canonized saint? I think that when the sisters abandoned their mission for more "relevant" occupations, left their convent and abandoned their religious garb they helped to put in motion the forces that resulted in your sitting in a former convent across from a closed school.
This is an interesting post when read in the context of Fridays reading (Acts 5:34-42.) .… So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God." I wonder if this is what John Paul II was thinking when he approved CMSWR as a parallel to LCWR versus a replacement?
What a thoughtful and meaningful reflection. Thank you for posting it. I known in my own life, I struggle with much the same view as a layman working in my secular work. How often do I take satisfaction in being right when it comes to ideas, without making sure that I am being right in my own daily practice. Orthodoxy needs orthopraxy, and orthopraxy needs orthodoxy (Br. Bill Short taught me that, but it is easy for me to forget it).
Cheers! And thanks for the wonderful reflections.
Post a Comment