Subscribe via RSS Feed

LCWR – 5 Reasons to Leave the Labels Behind

May 6, AD 2012 20 Comments

I am at war –but not with my fellow sisters. My enemy is the devil.

Women’s religious orders have been on a divergent path, mirroring the same divide among the Catholic faithful, for some time. The division finally reached a point of eruption recently when the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith asked the LCWR, an organization of women religious, to reform some of its practices.

As a woman who discerned religious life with several orders in California, I was introduced to this divide in an up close and personal way. I visited unhabited, LCWR communities as well as the whole shebang, habited CMSWR communities, (CMSWR is the alternative umbrella organization for women religious).

To be quite honest, I was not impressed with what I often saw on both sides. I visited community after community where the divide between “liberal” and “conservative” Catholics was a topic that inevitably came up in some way, subtly and not so subtly. I began to wonder if it is possible for an order to just be Catholic. Period.

Now, I am the typical woman discerning religious life these days – God has given me the grace to trust the Holy Spirit and believe the Church’s teachings on faith and morals. But, I also don’t have a chip on my shoulder. Just because a religious sister has views on women’s ordination that I don’t agree with doesn’t mean I am going to overlook her important work, in human trafficking for example, or ridicule her decision not to wear a habit. It is true, some religious in the US took Vatican II and ran with it, and some ran way too far. But it is also true that these sisters stuck it out in a time that was filled with chaos and uncertainty, (I love Vatican II but I really think our Church could have profited from some change management training).

We can look at pushing the limits in different ways but I choose to see the positive. Over the centuries, most of the treasures of our Ecumenical Councils were a response to ideas gone too far. So, I trust in the Holy Spirit. I know our Church can survive and even benefit from inevitable boundary pushing that occurs in times like these.

Unfortunately, many faithful Catholics get really worked up about these things. Some insist we are at war. I think it is important to remember that evil is at work on both sides. When we pretend this is a battle of good versus evil, we forget that the battle is happening within each and every one of us. Evil is not just at work on the side we don’t happen to agree with.

When I was living in California this divide among the faithful of the Church was perfectly illustrated in my choice of Masses to attend. I lived smack in the middle of two parishes, one which had most Masses in Latin and another that regularly had women preaching the homily. In the first parish, one of the priests questioned the validity of Vatican II, and in the second many Church teachings were considered outdated and unChristlike.

I had just returned to my faith after many years away and was not sure what to make of this divide in the Church, captured so perfectly in my dubious choice between neighborhood parishes. So, I did what any naive, new Catholic might do. I chose to attend both.

I learned a few lessons from my experiences at these two geographically close but ideologically distant parishes that I think anyone could apply to the state of the Catholic Church in the US and the current uproar surrounding the LCWR:

1. Personality Differences – I would love to do a Meyers-Briggs personality test on the Catholic left versus the Catholic right. I am pretty convinced that the divide in our Church is at least loosely tied to personality differences. When I remember that we each have different gifts and insights that we bring to the Church, this helps me to look at things with a lighter, more hopeful heart.

2. Let’s Get Back to Basics – I know a priest who is convinced that playing a piano as opposed to an organ at Mass is wrong. A matter of preference, probably even based on a Church document, had been turned into a matter of right and wrong in his mind. I think the division in our Church would be much less hostile if we could step back and ask ourselves – Am I getting worked up about a strongly held preference (i.e. habits or no habits) or a vital doctrine of the Church?

3. Parroting the Republican/Democrat Debate – Simply by using the labels “liberal” and “conservative” we are mimicking the political world around us rather than creating real Christian community. We naturally think of “social justice” Catholics versus “pro-life, family values” Catholics but this is only because we live within a society that makes these false distinctions. The Catholic faith is purple, not blue or red.

4. Campfire and Kumbaya Anyone? – It is hard to bash “liberal Catholics” or “right-wing Catholics” if you have friends of that persuasion. I learn a lot from my conversations with my left leaning, Catholic friends and they are often open to hearing my point of view.

These relationships keep me from hurling insults either way because I know I would be hurling them at my friends.

5. What Do We Agree About? – Certainly, the Church is infallible on issues of faith and morals but infallibility does not mean that the way the Church communicates something will not change. This is an important thing to keep in mind when discussing Church teaching with someone who disagrees with you. They may be right on almost everything but their conclusion.

So, who is with me?

Let’s leave behind the labels. Let’s try to love until it hurts. And let’s work for the unity that God longs to see in the Body of Christ.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Theresa Noble is a postulant, aka nun in training, with a religious congregation of sisters in the US. She left her job in California with eBay to follow God two years ago. She currently lives in a convent in St. Louis where she prays, evangelizes, bakes bread and blogs at[/author_info] [/author]

About the Author:

Sr. Theresa Noble is a novice, aka nun in training, with a religious congregation of sisters in the US. She left her job in California with eBay to follow God four years ago. She currently lives in a convent in Boston where she prays, evangelizes, bakes bread and blogs at Pursued by Truth (
  • Sarah

    There are not enough words for how much I love this article.
    When I worked for the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Peace and Justice, I was leading a meeting with our office and the Pro-life office, and the tension was so thick it was absurd. So I broke the ice by saying, really, we ought to be one office, since pro-life issues are social justice issues. I’m pretty sure every person in that room wanted to personally strangle me. To this day, I still don’t understand why they aren’t one office, other than because “liberals” like one and “conservatives” like the other.

    Thank you for sharing this reflection!

  • Rick Evans

    I’m with you Theresa. You’re article is full to the brim with wisdom. I regularly attend a church with an ideological divide you can cut with a knife. Concern for strict rubrics is almost non-existent. After mass we have a fellowship brunch where people sit at the tables in obviously divided groups based on political leaning. Nearby is a church that regularly celebrates mass in Latin. Also nearby is a third church that very reverently celebrates the Novus Ordo Rite. Seems like the days of just being “Catholic” without some further identifying adjective are gone. I will ponder what you wrote about being patient and more discerning of the positives that these various divides in action and thinking may provide.

  • Thinking

    Theresa – this is something I need to take to heart. Thanks so much for your thoughts. I’m still thinking and acting like I did when there was a REAL threat that orthodox teaching would be swept away in the US by the very strong and well established liberal agenda. Those were painful and scary times. And the negative impact can be seen everywhere, including in a recent survey in New Jersey indicating that 57% of Catholics believed that Jesus sinned.

    I believe during that time it really was, if not a war, at least an important battle. But I also believe it’s time to relinquish the uniforms, lay down the arms and join together during a critical time in our church’s history in America. Your generation, being free from a lot of the post-Vatican II “baggage” can lead the way. I’m with you!

  • @Sarah – Amen! Sometimes the worst environment for this clash is working in a diocesan office unfortunately. I know people who walked away from working directly with the Church because the tension was too much for them. I am hoping that this will begin to change over time.

    @Rick – Segregated lunch tables – are Catholics still in high school? 🙂 Why are people so hesitant to expose themselves to people who think differently? Jesus sure didn’t behave in this way… My prayers are with you as you navigate the divided waters in your parish.

    @Thinking – I really think that the generations that are further from the battle cries after Vatican II will be able to approach these issues with more hope. It’s easy for me to say this many years after the fact but Jesus did say “the gates of hell will never prevail against it…” I don’t think it is possible for the Church to lose the teachings of the Holy Spirit, no matter how much it can look like things are going the wrong way or everything is against Her. I try to remember this amidst the current battle for religious freedom. The “right side” has already won. Jesus already fought the fight.

  • Pingback: LCWR Rick Santorum Mitt Romney Thomism Pro-Life Academy | The Pulpit()

  • Raymond Nicholas

    Sorry, reading your post was like eating day-old oatmeal.

  • Fr. Ray

    Your basic, most fundamental insight is correct: Deus cartias est. A follower of Christ strives to bring the one thing necessary to whatever vocation s/he is called: Truth who is Christ the very Word of God Himself.

    That being said, mean-spiritedness can be found on both sides but there is a particular ferocity for those who mirror the political divide, as you call it, and my experience demonstrated that the largest number of those most likely to sneer, ridicule and criticize the Church and the Holy Father are on the left, the ‘democrats’ in the Church.

    True, ‘right-wing’ Catholics are hypercritical, nit-picky about liturgy, rubrics, guitars, folk-masses.

    BUT NOT ONE right-wing Lefebvrist or sympathizer EVER showed how glad they were when Bl. John Paul II died (in my parish, the staff members literally gloated when the news came out that the Holy Father passed away – “finally, the old man is dead”. True verbatim quote.) As much as the right-wingers disliked the Pope for not endorsing their side wholeheartedly, they at least – in my experience – never were so evil as to rejoice in his death.

    Sorry, Theresa – for this priest in the apostolic field (or in the trenches) the leftists I labor with don’t even pretend to have respect or reverence for the Faith. They actively promote the Democrats and Obama (very caught up in White guilt, I’m afraid).

    I’m not convinced by your post.

  • Fr Ray,

    I understand when you are in the trenches it is hard to see things in a hopeful way, it probably seems naive.

    But I do think you misunderstood me. I did not write the article to say all things are equal, or judge which side is least charitable. I think that is best left up to God.

    I also use the term “right” to refer to Pius the Xers, as well as orthodox Catholics. I understand that is problematic but within our society, and often our own Church, that is how orthodox Catholics are viewed. The divide I am speaking of is far bigger than the far left and the far right.

    How are we going to evangelize the culture if we cannot evangelize our own Church? I think that task is impossible at the moment because there is very little real dialogue between Catholics. People on both sides are often convinced that they have nothing to learn from people with differing views. I just hope that something I said may help you or others see the people they consider “on the other side” of the divide as human beings, most of whom do love God and have good intentions – at least the ones I have met and really taken the time to listen to..

    You will be in my prayers Fr. Ray, as well as all priests who deal with this every day. I cannot imagine how difficult it can be.

    In Jesus,


  • Abigail C. Reimel

    Though there are some good points in this article, I feel the need to address a few things. First, there is no such thing as a “liberal” Catholic. Someone who agrees with the liberal agenda cannot at the same time accept and practice the Church’s teachings.
    Even though personalities might cause some differences, that does not excuse parishes that go outside of Church tradition to “express” these opinions (ex: the parish Theresa mentioned that lets women preach).
    The lines about “getting back to the basics” reminded me of the Protestant cliche: “We agree about the important stuff”. Some things that may seem to be preferences are actually very important. Normally, things like not wearing a habit, rock music during Mass, or a priest not allowing parishoners to kneel when receiving the Eucharist are “preferences” that reflect a much deeper problem with the person’s perception of what it means to be a Catholic.
    Being a true, faithful Catholic does not always make everyone happy, and though it is important to avoid insults and hasty judgments, we must not allow offenses to the faith to continue in the name of kindness.
    The nuns who actively participate in the LCWR are misrepresenting the Church and insulting devout, faithful nuns by giving the wrong impressions of what nuns (as Catholics) believe and desire. I am happy that Pope Benedict is doing something to fix these repeated offenses against the Church.
    Thank you for this article; I think it opened up a very necessary discussion. God bless your journey to “nun-hood”. 🙂

  • Thank you for a unique perspective. It’s very interesting to see how the current “liberal vs. conservative” church atmosphere can affect young people pursuing a religious vocation. It’s always more complicated than “good guys against the bad guys.” While I think it would be great if all sisters wore some type of habit, one of my most enriching years was spent working with the non-habited Daughters of Charity in St. Louis. We didn’t always share liturgical preferences, but they were some of the most humble, caring, peaceful, joyful, courageous women I’ve ever met. I would have missed out if I had just run away from their politics.

  • Robert


    Much of what you say is fair and reasonable. You want to bring people together and that’s got to be good. However, I think you, unintentionally of course, simplify the problem. So-called liberals or progressives, are in my experience -from conversations, wide reading of blogs etc – far too often dissenters from the clear teachings of the church and as such they are a bridge too far.

    You can discuss amicably with people who have different emphases about this or that teaching but it is very difficult to have an amicable discussion with a ‘Catholic’ who rejects outright the church’s teaching on say abortion, or gay marriage, being chaste or virginal , divorce, reception of communion for gays, divorcees etc etc.

    You must be aware that there are people calling themselves Catholic who are really outside the Church in terms of their values and beliefs. Such people are usually described as left-wingers. Of course, there is a very small group on the right who reject Vatican 11 and every pope since Pius X11. They too remain outside the Church, at least while they retain their obstinancy.

    Really, we cannot come together unless we all accept the magisterium. Different emphases are fine – but being faithful to the Church’s teachings, accepting and upholding them, is the bottom line.


  • I find the “you are not Catholic unless you agree with the Magisterium” argument very frustrating to hear.. It is problematic bc there are many good Catholics who would like to agree with Church teaching but they just cannot understand it- unsurprising in our highly secularized culture. Does God want lock step agreement or does he want free assent? I think He desires the latter and that requires more from us than just dismissing our brothers and sisters who are struggling with certain Church teachings. I have had many amicable conversations with “leftist” “liberal” Catholics, including people within my own family. Like any group of people there is variation. Some are hardened and prideful, and some are humble and really wrestling. All of these Catholics deserve more from us than being dismissed and written off.

    In Jesus,


  • @Sarah – I know some of the Daughters of Charity in St Louis too! I agree wholeheartedly with you. If we determine our interactions and relationships by a litmus tests of orthodoxy, we miss out on learning from some beautiful people! (and the opportunity to share the beauty of orthodoxy)

  • Elizabeth S

    I completely agree with your point that we shouldn’t be arguing over issues like organ vs guitar vs no instruments in liturgy. I do agree with the Magesterium, but I attend an English speaking, OCP missalette using parish, which some more Orthodox, latin speaking Catholics act like is an impossiblity. I used to attend a Newman Center, and with Obama’s support for gay marriage and vote in NC, several people I knew from there have posted they support gay marriage. Many of these people have a genuine love for Jesus and the Church, but they are ignorant of the Church’s teaching and have been influenced by the type of Christian churches that say “Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes, I’m sure he’d eat with LGBTQ people as well” that forget the part where Jesus invited those sinners to repent of their sins and live holy lives. It’s important for people on the entire spectrum of liturgical tastes and political views, especially those who agree with the entirety of the Church’s teachings, to remember that teaching the ignorant is a work of mercy. Someone who disagrees with a teaching may not have ever been taught the truth and the reason why we believe as we do.

  • Sally

    Nice article, but I disagree with your points about personality differences. I, too, have visited a number of different communities, some LCWR, others not. Within each group there are women with greatly differing personalities. Certainly you’re right that personality might play a role in which type of ministry or order/congregation one ends up in, but it really doesn’t explain adherence to heresy and rejection of non-negotiable Church doctrine. That can be found with any personality, just as clinging to the Faith is accessible to any personality. The problems found with the LCWR were considered “grave” – I don’t think they can be glossed over so easily.

  • @Elizabeth – Excellent point. Many people hold views that are contrary to Church teaching purely out of ignorance. Good catechesis is so needed!

    @Sally – I was not trying to propose hard and fast rules or gloss over real and serious differences.

    A quote from Peter Kreeft I found recently that is apropos:

    “The essential insight of the Right or Conservativism is that of the absoluteness of truth. The conservative mind is clear and hard. “Dogmatic is the curse word the Left uses to describe it. The essential insight of the Left or Liberalism is that of the absoluteness of love. If an idea or program seems to be loving, seems to help people, if it is compassionate, then the Left is for it… The fault of the conservatives is to see that Love is absolute, and the fault of the liberals is to see the truth is absolute.”

    I wrote this post to say that if the “right,” including orthodox Catholics, could use some of the ideas proposed, and many others available, to combine these two truths in their approach to others, we would be much more effective in evangelizing our society.

    I have really enjoyed reading the comments made here and the discussion that has ensued. I will be leaving out of town for some time and will not have time to respond further, but I will be praying that we can continue to spread the Catholic faith with Truth and Love, especially in these difficult times for the Church.

  • Pingback: 5.11.2012 Sister News Weekend Edition «

  • Matt S.

    Thanks for this. I know those parishes you mention–and yes, they are as strikingly distinct as you describe.
    Let us remember that there can be unity in our diversity. Catholics can personally oppose abortion without actively campaigning for the repeal of Roe v. Wade, or seek liturgical renewal while still adhering to the rubrics. We don’t need to get to try to shout gendered or non-gendered language during the Mass to get our point across. And I think that fidelity to Christ’s Word, and targeted focus on a wide variety of aspects of Catholic social teaching, can provide powerful witness to God’s manifest love in the world. And how much more effectively will we be sacrament if we can stop bickering.
    God bless. Keep up the good work, Theresa.

  • Benoit

    Reading the article, I was left with the impression(perhaps wrongly) that love is first and truth second.
    Nobody will deny that a charitable love is due to our neighbors, whatever their beliefs. But then let’s not be afraid of proclaiming the TRUTH IN LOVE. Jesus did not say “I am the Truth, the Way, and the Life” for nothing. The meaning of what He said (meaning taught by the Church) is not to be taken lightly with the excuse that as long as I love everything is all right. If my egocentric ways impede my learning the truth the Church teaches, true love should help me find out that the truth of Christ comes from the Church not from my own self-absorbed interpretation.
    Living the Truth in love should be our goal, therefore to love my neighbor means that I have a DUTY to do the best I can IN LOVE, to make sure that this neighbor knows that beliefs contrary to Church Doctrine are not acceptable.
    It is not for me to judge why some Catholics are pro abortion, pro homosexuality, pro woman priest, etc.,etc., positions that are not just MAYBE wrong, but obviously wrong. How will they ever know the truth if my love of neighbor impedes my proclaiming it to them?

  • JAF

    This is just my humble opinion. I could be wrong. But I believe in many cases, that it is LOVE more than anything else that leads people to the truth. Often when people see pure selfless love lived in action, then they are open to exploring the truth behind it. On the contrary, truth without love most readily repels.

    At least, this was true of my limited experience. You see, I was raised in a very evangelical/fundamentalist protestant household. I knew the Bible inside and out. I knew the Christian faith. I was well trained in defending and expressing my evangelical beliefs. I was convinced that Catholics were not true Christians. I could argue Scripture to prove it. When someone once gave me a Rosary, I quickly threw it in the trash.

    Then I was sent to Catholic high school where I had the privilege of being taught by some religious Sisters (a community affiliated with the LCWR). These Sisters didn’t have habits or long rosaries. Yet I was greatly impressed by these Sisters, their kindness, care, and concern, their deep compassion, and above all their willingness to listen. For example, the Sister who taught my religion class always allowed me to freely articulate my own evangelical beliefs on tests and papers, provided I could properly defend them. Certainly, this teacher could have been accused of putting love above truth since it was a Catholic school and she could have very well forced me to violate my conscience and write only things in agreement with the Catholic faith, but in love she showed me respect, and this deeply impressed me.

    Indeed, it was the love of the Sisters that started to draw me to them. They really loved Jesus and they really loved people. They had such goodness and joy. They had such respect for their students. Slowly, I began to question my own evangelical beliefs. These Sisters had the deep personal relationship with God that I had always wanted. They were living the Gospel by loving in small ways every single day. Here, I was, strong in my pride and arrogance, confident that I knew all there was to know about truth and Christianity, but I didn’t have what they had. They had a living relationship with Jesus. Something real. Something so good and holy that I began to believe that it had to be true. I began to see that yes, these Catholic Sisters were not only Christians, but indeed they were much more truly Christian than I was.

    Well, the Sisters did it. Their love started my quest for truth. In college, I started reading all the Catholic theology and spirituality I could find, including the writings of the Saints. Four years after college, I entered the Catholic Church. Three years later, my dad (a cradle Catholic who had left Catholicism some thirty years before) returned to the Church along with my mom and many siblings.

    God is good. Never underestimate the power of a life lived with love. Indeed, the Final Judgment is all based on love (Matt 25). I was there, Christ will say. Did you love me? For at the end, love remains the greatest, and anything without love is absolutely nothing (1st. Corinthians 13).