Friday, May 4, 2012

LCWR Sisters and the Way Forward

Here's what I think underlies this Vatican attack on the  LCWR sisters.  Vatican II happens.  (I remember it well.)  The nuns, as called to do, open their convent doors, put on some ordinary clothes, and go out into the world to see what the needs might be.  Out there, they found a world of hurt.  Pondering what they saw and felt - in the light of the Gospels - they set out to be the Heart and Hands of JESUS in a hurting world.

They likely found that, disguised as ordinary people, they had to let go of all the exaggerated obeisance nuns in religious garb had been receiving.  But at the same time they found the letting go of that opened doors.  Into people's hearts and minds.  Into the dark corners of society, where the hurt was deepest.

Along comes the sexual abuse crisis.  The nuns respond to that too!  Because, after all, WWJD?

Oops!!!!  Somewhere in the Vatican a fissure began to emerge methinks.  All the centuries of covering up, all the cardinals and bishops, vowed to go along to get along.  All the priests currying favor in order to move up the career track.  All these folks could SEE that the sisters were following a different drummer.  A drummer that counted victims and women and gay people as, well PEOPLE!!  People who deserved the attention of Jesus, which is exactly what the sisters believed they were called to SEE and minister to.

So we have these two very different roads that were being followed.

The Vatican CAREER TRACK.  Open only to men.  Men in special clothing - reminiscent of women.  A track which seems to have veered further and further from Vatican II - due to the absolute terror, it would seem, of people (like the good nuns) simply following the Gospels wherever they led.  I can imagine these "career" hierarchs feeling like they were in a canoe which was headed for rapids and there was NO WAY they were going on that perilous journey!  Fear.  It all comes down to fear, I think.  And the failure to listen to Jesus, who told the scared disciples:  "Fear not."

Meanwhile, the nuns continue on their journey...  Into the unknown.  Holy Mystery.  A journey which the hierarchs have mostly abandoned; instead the Vatican (and its minions) begin reversing course. Looking backward.  Assuming that the path "forward" is to paddle back upstream as fast as they can.  They enlist others to their cause.  Allying with the Opus.  Etc.  (You know the story...)

So now we have two journeys going on.  And any metaphors you find better than mine, I'm open to.  But it amounts to people following the Spirit's call, as Abraham did, to leave the "known" and journey into the "unknown" - scary as that might feel.  It's the journey each of us is called to.  Individually.  And corporately.  You can read it in Genesis and Exodus.  That's one journey.  And the second is unlike it.  It amounts to turning back.  As if Abraham had turned back.  Or Moses had listened to the grumbling people, rather than to God, and he had gone back to Egypt.  (Again, I'm open to other metaphors.)

But basically, the journey backwards, going upstream, against the current, requires a lot more "manpower" (or could be woman-power) than the one downstream.  Downstream, even if the stream is in flood and it looks very scary, you're in the River of Life - you're in touch with all of humanity.  Which indeed is what Jesus was doing.  Immersing himself in the humanity of his times.  (While the priestly cast - and its adherents - were carefully avoiding the dregs and the dirt and whatever they viewed as "impure" and doctrinally unkosher.)

So...  it seems to me that what we see right now is an effort on the part of the Vatican hierarchs to gather more "manpower" and "womanpower" for their misguided, backwards, upstream path.  They want the laity in there rowing and paddling for them, along with the good sisters!  And God forbid any of them pay attention to the dregs of society on the way upstream:  victimized individuals, including those of predatory priests; women leaders (no, no, no... women should never, never, never take a leadership position!); gay individuals; prostitutes etc.  No.... to take these in the boat is to upset the canoe! 

This is a church going in two directions at once.  With one direction, the downstream one, willing to take ALL into the boat along with them!  And another, the upstream-bent, preferring a smaller, purer group.... well, except for pressing into service, like a modern-day chain-gang, the good nuns!  And the pew potatoes.

Sorry for the long story.... but I suspect it's the correct analysis.  I think the support for victims of predatory priests (rather than the Vatican-required HIDING of the crimes) is what undid things here.  The empathy for victims - rather than siding with the cover-up of crimes.

Fare forward!  Downstream!  Toward the unknown.   Holy Mystery.  In search of us.

Addendum (5/6/2012):

One sister's experience, as told to an oral historian:
We enter into the pain of people, and I guess for me it’s become more the pain of the world. It’s so deep. There are so many trouble spots and there are so many people who don’t get a share at the table. I hope my prayers are deeper. I hope my walking on this earth is gentler and more caring and more compassionate. I also feel that I have met the people and they’ve told me their story. So what is now my responsibility?
That, it would seem, is the way forward.

And another sister makes the point explicitly:
You can't just forget the common good and the people who are suffering right now. The more you are with those in pain, the more radical you become to overcome that pain. I don't think it is possible to go backwards.
I really feel that Jesus would want us to go forward and to be out there where the people are in pain. I believe that about Jesus. I always say, Jesus never said worship me, he said follow me, so that is what I am trying to do.
And so should we all.


Anonymous said...

If I might be so bold as to say that you may have missed some key things here.
The LCWR is not being punished for their charity to the poor and marginalized - on the contrary, they were commended.
What is of issue here is unorthodox practice, dissent, etc. (i.e. heretical Christology, post-Christianity, new age spirituality, etc. etc.) When one is within the Church, and a professed religious, why is it wrong that they are subject to the Church, founded by Christ Himself, that they profess obedience to?
I wonder if the bishops were women cracking down on heretical orders of men, would there be so much hubbub over all of this?
Just some thoughts.

TheraP said...

Dear Idler:

Thank you for taking time to comment. I'll respond as briefly as I can here, though I don't intend to get into an ongoing conversation as it's likely we are each coming to this issue from very different perspectives.

With all due respect, let's take a look at your own comment. For starters, I think you have confused two things in one sentence. You write that the nuns are "subject to the Church, founded by Christ Himself, that they profess obedience to." This is a rather confusing grammatical phrasing, for it is unclear whether you think the sisters owe their primary allegiance to God or to the church. You do state that the church is founded by Christ, which would make Christ primary of course. But for the sake of logic, we need to clarify the meaning of “church”. “Church” is the Assembly or People of God. The People God has gathered to Himself. That means ALL of us who are baptized. The church INCLUDES the nuns. So they wouldn't be making vows to themselves or to us, but to God. The nuns are therefore subject to God. They made their vows to God. And they must answer, in conscience, to God.

Next, you seem to view the nuns as being “punished” for “heresy”. As we know, even Jesus, when faced with a woman taken in adultery, asked that the “one who is without sin” should “cast the first stone.” And they all walked away! I was unaware that any nuns were on trial for heresy, let alone convicted of heresy or sentenced to some type of punishment for heresy.

It's very unfortunate that the hierarchy has chosen public-shaming of a majority of US nuns over what seems to be a disagreement many of us have over Vatican II. Public-shaming of these nuns also stands in stark contrast to covering up for CRIMES committed by priests. It is in the context of the scandalous, criminal behavior of many priests all over the world that, for whatever reason, the hierarchy, apparently, would prefer to point the finger of blame at the sisters.

I thank you for your comment. May God's bless you abundantly as, in conscience, you continue your journey in faith. And may God abundantly bless the sisters as in concience they do the same.

Bill Wilson said...

In defense of the sisters, someone should remind Pope Ratzinger what his predecessor told the hierarchs of his time: "We must obey God rather than man."

Catholic Mission said...

Friday, June 15, 2012
LCWR Sisters could have asked the CDF to introduce them to those saved in invincible ignorance and the baptism of desire
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has explained that the purpose of the doctrinal assessment had been to “assist the LCWR in this important mission by promoting a vision of ecclesial communion founded on faith in Jesus Christ” and also on “the teachings of the Church as faithfully taught through the ages under the guidance of the Magisterium.”

TheraP said...

Dear Catholic Mission:

I am truly not sure what you are getting in your first comment in terms of how that relates to the post. In particular, it seems to me that the LCWR sisters very much focus on a type of ecclesiology which has a relationship with Christ at its center.

What gives me pause, however, from your comment is this quote: "“the teachings of the Church as faithfully taught through the ages under the guidance of the Magisterium.”

I always thought the church was under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as Luke makes so clear in his Gospel and in Acts. As Paul made clear in his meeting with James in Jerusalem. (As you may recall James, not Peter, was leader of the earliest church at the FIRST council in Jerusalem.)

Your comment is important, therefore, in one crucial way (at least to me). For it underscores a central fissure in how catholics understand "church" (and recall this means ALL of us who recite and are bound by the Nicene Creed - whose original words are that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father" - and this does not mean the pope or a magesterium).

The Holy Spirit guides the church. In mysterious ways. And this present crisis, precipitated by the Vatican (not the nuns!) is related, I think, to a FAILURE of ecclesiogy, a failure flowing from the Vatican's neglect of "conciliar leadership" - which was urged by Vatican II and which the sisters exhibit.

I claim no infallibility. Nor do I believe that any one individual is infallible - one reason I converted to Orthodoxy - which views the pope as bishop among bishops. The Orthodox look to scripture and the Fathers and those early councils which represented the entire church and emphasize a corporate style of leadership, which includes laity. The sisters, to my mind, are a greater example of this style of leadership than the RCC hierarchy has become.

Peace be upon you. May you seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

TheraP said...

With all due respect to Catholic Mission, I have read your further comments but (even) your conviction that I am going to hell is unlikely to persuade me or most who read here.

Please be advised therefore that while I respect absolutely your right to believe as you do - and certainly would never presume on God's ultimate judgment of any soul (as you seem to do), such convictions do not add to a compassionate discussion of spiritual matters and therefore will not be published on this or any of my blogs.

Thank you for declining to send further comments. And God bless you on your journey.

Hilary Cook said...

I'd just like to say that the ease of moving forward in the Spirit which you describe seems to me to be the ease of yoke and burden of which Jesus spoke.

TheraP said...

Thank you, Hillary. I am sure you are correct! If I conveyed that the path was always easy, I apologize.

You have put your finger upon my most beloved quote from the Gospels.

Peace be with you. And thank you for reading and making your point clear.

Hilary Cook said...

No i didn't get that you thought it was always easy but there is an easiness as opposed to hard slog and that's what i think Jesus meant - or in Shirley McLaine's words - the incredible lightness of being. The unfortunate thing about it is that it doesn't make one perfect!!!!!!oh vay!

TheraP said...

Thank you for the clarification, Hillary. Yes! I love your reframing of this as the incredible lightness of being. (I'm going to ponder that ... for a long time.)

I recently wrote about the quote elsewhere. Two blogs actually but they stand on their own. The most important is here:

And the other is linked in the first sentence (there).

You are a wonderful reader and so helpful!

Hilary Cook said...

Hi TheraP
The more i think about the` whole Jesus message the more it seems to me to be wrapped up in his experience of going beyond his ego at his crucifixion. This is precisely what we are asked to do -follow him in kenosis, emptying of self-will - and openness to being filled with the Spirit of God. Not seeking to get my own way, but 'listening....with the ear of [my] heart.....' (Rule of Benedict Prologue 1:1) to the Other (in whatever guise). Of course in a community seeking to be Christ-like this is reciprocal - neither 'Other' is more important than the other. Truth seeking is a process of communication. Not a laying down of law in dictatorship (see OT - didn't work). Following Jesus is not about keeping rules - unless you see the command to love God and others as yourself, as a rule. You only have to look at his attitude,(reported in the Gospels) to those who thought they were home and hosed because of their law/rule-keeping.....Going beyond oneself and embracing one's reality is what we are called to - of self and situation - that is the lightness of both yoke and burden that leads to resurrection.

I stumbled accross Rollo
May's 'Courage to Create' wherein he points out that creative people (here he includes mystics) are very often on their own without support because they cut across societal norms and hence alienate people because of the fear of difference. Even without trying anyone different can automatically put into question what we take for granted. So too i think can we, because if we wilfully eyeball God we have no choice but to be the person God wants us to be to be ie whole. By and large our societies' rules are not conducive to assisting those who 'are not like us', which is of course the clarion call for those who would take up the cross of following Jesus and being authentic.

TheraP said...

Hilary, I agree completely with what you say about Jesus. But I think the ego-transcendence is in evidence even earlier. For Jesus knew, at the time John the Baptist was imprisoned and then executed, that he was treading the same path. Thus, I agree, but I think his entire preaching life, his whole personality, his words, his deeds, manifest exactly what you've said. With the crucifixion event (and its aftermath) as crucial to our understanding that God has now invaded us... not just broken into the world we inhabit.

Two things. First I'd like to put in a plug for the Old Testament - as far more "conciliar" than some read it. What we react against, I think, is the Pharisee effort (then and now) to impose a "dictatorship" via a sharia-like view of God's relationship with human beings. When I read the Old Testatment, I am so powerfully moved by God's interventions (Call of Abraham, wresting with Jacob, Burning Bush, Calls of prophets... just to name a few). And I keep in mind that the texts, as we have them, are a product of community thinking and endorsement of texts - which often contradict each other (we sure see this in the NT as well). And this happened across centuries, inside and outside Israel. So I see the Holy Spirit as ceaselessly at work - even before the time of Christ. And still at work, of course, through these sacred texts. Which SPEAK the WORD. Culminating in Christ, the ultimate WORD made flesh, self-emptying, totally Spirit-filled. And I see the NT as powerfully resonating with the Old. Indeed, I think the whole Bible is like an orchestra that can play music of so many types, at times using scales and notes which exceed our hearing or our comprehension. But we learn to listen via this same self-emptying process.

The blogger system is causing me to divide this comment. So please read on ...

TheraP said...

Next, not sure if you know the name but I just received a pile of books by Mark Patrick Hederman. (The name came to my attention through Blue Eyed Ennis, who posted most of an interview with him - from 2 years ago.) He is a Benedictine Abbot, whose election stunned the very community that voted him into office, for his name was not thought to be in the "running" 4 years ago. (I read this when I looked him up.) The monastery views him as a Prophet, anointed by the Holy Spirit. And once I read that fact, I looked him up on Amazon and ordered many of his books. Which came over the weekend.

Well... the man is a brilliant writer! He has GOT the spiritual life. And he is setting about, in my view, explaining Christianity in modern terms. Incisively. Using art and poetry and novels and movies and his deep, deep acquaintance with scripture and spirituality (using both Eastern and Western Christian traditions). With such humor at times! He's putting everything into new wine skins! Without losing the essence. (I suspect it will be only a matter of time before his books are "banned" and soar to the top of the charts!)

To me, this Abbot stands where Thomas Merton left off. Reading the signs of our day as Merton read the signs of his. He's totally different than Merton, who published under censorship and lived (mostly) before Vatican II. Abbot Mark Patrick is synthesizing everything through the filter of Vatican II, his 50 years or so of monastic life, his training as a philosopher, his years of teaching young men in the modern world, and his creative genius - guided, I am sure, by the Holy Spirit.

He comes out of "community" - which you have so eloquently described. And again... take your description of how community works and read that back into how the Old Testament came to be. For while the New Testament gelled and was canonized very quickly, the Old has traces of being worked and reworked over centuries and centuries - so very like a "community across time and space".

I once did a great deal of reading and thinking about creativity. In order to be sure that my theory of personality and therapy included it, along with spirituality, normality and psychopathology. Creative individuals are able to grapple with Paradox. Mystics too of course! And it is paradox, I think, that propels us to a point of transcendence. And from there, another paradox... to another transcendence. (I'm reading Origin in von Balthazaar's compendium and Origin puts this process so charmingly in the Prologue there.)

So, to summarize here, I think there are many people in this amazing time of Christian ferment, who are working across time and space - in a communal way - even without realizing it perhaps. And as the Abbot makes clear, sometimes oppression or great suffering can be the creative crucible God makes use of to transform us. I think it's happening now.

Peace. Many blessings! And enormous gratitude. Namaste.

Hilary Cook said...

I agree with you about the importance of the OT (in an earlier arrogance i thought it a waste of space), but like you i am finding an understanding of Jesus' statement that he came to fulfil the Law through closer listening.

Just recently we had the OT reading about David and Goliath, and as i listened i realised that this is talking about intergenerational stuff as did Jesus - Saul tries to load David up with his wisdom (armour) which weighs him down and is unworkable. The problem of the time (for which resolution no older person stepped forward as they figured, i suppose, that they knew the outcome)needed the wisdom and skill of the younger generation. This ties in with new wine not in old skins and Jesus' saying that children would turn against parents, i suspect to be their own, whole person self, not relpicating past anything.

I was really taken when i read St. Benedict's instruction that in important decisions the Abbot must consult the younger members of the community because they often have the Spirit (paraphrase).

Thank you for alerting me to Mark Patrick Hedermann - i shall add him to my reading list.

By the by are you familiar with the poems of the Sufi mystic Rumi? Sums up the in expressible in a wonderful way.

I think we have far too many words and out of these hang our egos up as proof of being when really all that is necessary is to be still and Know that G-d is G-d.

Namaste, Shalom, Pax,

TheraP said...

Working backwards...

I have 2 books of Rumi on my bookshelf. And my favorite quote of his, which I keep losing, is something like when all ways seem to lead to dead ends, God opens a hidden doorway that no one yet has known. I've read lots in many traditions. And I also have collections of wisdom tales in all of the major ones (Hasidic, Zen, Sages of the desert, Sufi tales) - Jesus' parables are of this type. (And I guess, as your comment about David and Goliath suggests, we could usefully read some OT stories that way too.)

I have an interesting book called "Benedict's Dharma" - where 4 Buddhists reflect on the Rule of St. Benedict. Very interesting to read how they view aspects of the rule from their own traditions (they each represent different Buddhist traditions). Maybe all politicians should be required to spend some time in monasteries... and to reflect on something like Benedict's Rule. Apparently businessmen have sometimes been taken to monasteries - and been powerfully affected.

If only church communities were small enough to run according to Benedict's rule. People are so much more willing to sign onto something, when they've had a say in it. I think that applies to young and old.

Great joy "knowing" you, Hilary. Oops! I see I've been spelling your name wrong...

P.S. Just this morning Abbot Mark Patrick used the phrase "the unbearable lightness of being" in a book of his. Synchronicity!

Be well...