Frankly, the Vatican's document and reprimand to the LCWR was not really on my radar. Like many Catholics I vaguely knew there were some orders of religious who liked to style themselves "progressive" and skirt Vatican teachings when it didn't suit their ideas of service. In this, I am thinking more of a particular priest I know from another city. He'll never know how much he shocked me (as a fairly new Catholic) when he confided, with a twinkle in his eye about breaking some rules which he didn't think were all that important because he was the best judge of such things. That moment and his attitude always came to mind when I'd hear reports of orders flouting Church teachings. So I may, perhaps, have gotten it wrong a few times when thinking that such flouting was deliberate rather than sheer ignorance. Honestly, I'm not sure which is worse when considering a whole order's behavior. But that is a matter for further pondering, especially with concern to my own life. Where do I leave myself (or those around me) ignorant and where do I ignore what I should obey?
Reading 1st Corinthians this morning was especially enlightening as Paul is dealing with a scandalous situation being tolerated in the church. Chapter 5: 1-5 from the NAB:
It is widely reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of a kind not found even among pagans—a man living with his father’s wife. And you are inflated with pride. Should you not rather have been sorrowful? The one who did this deed should be expelled from your midst. I, for my part, although absent in body but present in spirit, have already, as if present, pronounced judgment on the one who has committed this deed,b in the name of [our] Lord Jesus: when you have gathered together and I am with you in spirit with the power of the Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.Careful reading and the accompanying commentary makes two things very clear. First, the community is so "puffed up" (literal translation of "inflated") that they not only tolerate the immoral situation but either consider themselves spiritually advanced or they think it doesn't affect them as a community. The community should have been sorrowful or, as other translations say, have been "in mourning."
This says something to me about those orders, true, but it says more to me about those who are triumphant about the reprimand. People have been angry about such laxity but have we been mournful for these, our sisters, who have gone astray? Have we felt sorrowful for the probable outcome to them? Whether as a reprimand or for the ill being done in their lax attitudes, should we not have cared as much as we would for a dear friend or family member? Have we prayed or offered up fasting or some similar sacrifice to God on their behalf, as I myself have done for a beloved atheist family member?
Where is our sense of unity? Where is our response to the great commandment of love that Christ gave us?
You notice I include myself. I can say these things because I am guilty. Paul is talking directly to me on this.
Second, the immoral man is excommunicated from the community by Paul. Note that this is not intended to be permanent but it is "a therapy of privation that hopefully will wake the man up and lead him to repentance and readmission to the community" (from the commentary).
Sometimes we need a spiritual awakening administered through severe action because it is only then that we pay attention. We've all experienced this from time to time. It is when we ignore the increasingly strong reprimands that it becomes necessary to take drastic measures to get our attention. I'm thinking here of the prodigal son.
In 1st Corinthians it is both to save the man and safeguard the community from the bad example that the action is taken.
It seems shocking from the outside but in the end could save them all.
From personal experience, I'd say that a good many problems of the sort we see in the Corinthian community and in this situation come from insularity. We don't go outside our comfortable bubbles enough to get another perspective.
In this case, I would like to offer the LCWR a modern example of someone they could emulate. Not a long-ago saint or far away person from the "other side" but someone who feels their pain and yet will take the hard steps to offer that pain to God and ask for enlightenment and growth.
Joanne McPortland blogs with her whole heart at egregious twaddle. I like her even though she often is approaching Catholic things from the opposite viewpoint than I am. I like her because she is honest, because she is trying, because she is sticking with her recent return to the Catholic church and struggling with the things that don't seem to make sense. But offering herself to God so that she may understand.
As a former agnostic, child of atheists, even more a child of our modern society, I too have had similar struggles that hurt me to the very bone.
Her response the the Vatican reprimand of the LCWR was angry. An honest anger that stormed questions at God on behalf of people she loved. Go read An Uppity Woman Prays for Answers. I believe that God doesn't mind those angry shouts because, like Job's, they are honest and heart-felt. Though they may be filled with pain, they are turning to Him. It is a trust that there is an answer. It is a personal response in a personal relationship with Him.
Joanne helped me see the other side and reminded me of a place I love that can sometimes be outside my own comfort bubble, which is my Catholic women's book club. I absolutely love every woman who comes to it.
And yet. And yet we are a very diverse group. We do our best to stay from controversial topics and yet we can't sometimes. I sometimes mourn for some of my sisters from that group and I always pray that we may all know truth. And they keep me centered. They help me see the heart of those I don't agree with sometimes. Am I right when I disagree with them? I think so, obviously. However, we keep each other close to the middle of the road marker, where we may reach over and hold hands, understanding each other's hearts. Sometimes, we will even step across and be together on either side. And that's the right way to be, after all. Because that's where the Church is. Not on the fringes, but in the middle. But, again, that concept provides enough pondering for another day, so we will move on.
Joanne does that for me. As did that post.
The next day, Joanne wrote Fleeing Babylon: The Old Order(s) Changeth. She'd had time to think, to pray, to listen for answers, to hear what kind friends were not saying (out of kindness) and to know it for a hint of the truth. She has been able to gain clarity and relinquish her anger. She remains sad but also joyful.
This was heartening and also a wonderful look at the spiritual wrestling we must all do with the messengers of God. Like Jacob, we may be left wounded. It may be a wound that, like his, we carry our whole lives. But it changes us.
I so appreciate Joanne sharing her personal struggle because of her honesty and commitment to truth.
It helps me to remember that unity, helps me begin to truly mourn and pray for these sisters of Christ, and to examine myself for blind spots and pride.
I hope and pray that the sisters of the LCWR may go through the same process as we all limp, joyfully (!), toward God together.