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.