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’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/tnoble2.jpg[/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 pursuedbytruth.blogspot.com.[/author_info] [/author]