Friday, April 20, 2012

1st Corinthians and the LCWR: Mourning and a Wake Up Call to Repentance

A few thoughts, not necessarily strung together in the best way, but I wanted to get these out there for consideration before my day got away from me.

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.


  1. For your reading: Sister Teresita and the Spirit ( I read this decades ago, and while it has not perhaps moved me to pray as much as I ought, it has brought me understanding. A book to be carefully shared.

  2. Julie, thank you. I'm crying reading your post. Please know that it's having folks like you, who live "in all things, charity," that makes it possible for folks like me to keep wrestling. May we limp along joyfully ad multos annos!

  3. Thank you, in return, for giving me credit for being charitable. I wind up there sometimes (thank you, God) but often take the round-about road getting there. You helped me short-cut it. You and Paul, that is. Two good companions for the road together! :-)

  4. Very charitable reflection, Julie. Fr. Philip Powell has a little more information up to clarify the picture and also some kind words for many of those non-habited sisters who do wonderful work in our world:

  5. I had never heard of the LCWR until now, but I was aware of a number of nuns who were really way off on Catholic teaching, so off that they were more radical than just Liberal. I personally know of a nun who supports abortion, which was way shocking to me. I respect the desire of these nuns to make the world better, though I certainly disagree with all they stand for, but this was a very much needed correction by the Vatican. These nuns were fragmenting the church and undermining Episcopal authority. They had raised their will to that of the bishops, and the Church cannot stand for that. I hope these nuns will accept this correction with humility and work for a better world within the Catholic magisterium.

  6. Dear Julie,
    I came across your post about the LCWR and found your your article excellent. I just want to echo the sentiments of J.K. Portland. Your insights are fantastic. God bless.
    Eric Haiduk

  7. Julie,

    Who are you? I can't find any identifying information about you on your home page? With what authority do you write with such opinion? Do you hold a position in the church? Are you a nun? Do you hold a degree in Theology?

    In my earlier response to the person pitying Sister Simone Campbell for not being "obedient" enough (I believed I was addressing someone other than you named LBJ), I did speak with passion. Why that "passion" would lead you to the company analogy is unclear, but while we are on the topic . . .

    I actually do work for a large organization. I have been a practicing tax lawyer for nearly 20 years and have always worked for large law firms. While I am asked to interpret tax and pension laws, assist in administering them and, sometimes, simply explain them, I have never been censored or prevented from using my own mind, questioning or opining in the name of so-called "unity" on behalf of my firm. To the contrary, I have often advised clients "my firm's official position on this issue is [blank], and I disagree somewhat and I'll tell you why." My boss does not rebuke me from saying such things beause my boss does not find such things threatening. Unlike the current Catholic hierarchy.

    As a life-long Catholic, I don't feel any need to be united with other Catholics on doctrine. That we share the same beliefs in one God, in his divine Son, in the Holy Trinity - hurrah. But there is no societal need. I'm not here to conquer anyone. My life is a journey, not a quest. John Paul II believed otherwise - in order to survive post-WWII as a priest in Poland, his church needed unity and fidelity. Benedict XVI simply follows suit, and why, who knows? Habit? I believe their collective desire for unity and orthodoxy are very damaging to my Catholic church, today. And the Vatican's rebuke to the nuns is a reflection of how threatened it feels.

    I was listening to the same NPR broadcast as your daughter, and my take on Sister Simone was that she was struggling to be as honest, as careful and as brave as possible when interviewed. How humiliating it must be for her to so suddenly become subject to the review of a Seattle cardinal - whose work is so different from that of the Sisters - who is expected to provide "guidance", among other things, about doctrine? I'm fairly certain that Sister Simone sees this act by the Vatican as a rebuke, and given the speed with which those on-line petitions have been circulating, most thinking Catholics would have to agree. It's a rebuke in response to the nuns' refusal to allow their work with people - "on the margins" - to be clouded by the Vatican's obssession with gynecology, sex and the stifling of women.

    Simply put, the Vatican has it wrong. The nuns have it right. The Vatican feels threatened and is using the public domain to assert itself. It will do itself more harm than good in the long-run. And, that my friend, is what concerns me. This attack on the nuns will have no positive effect, and it will continued reason for thinking, ignored Catholics like me, to leave the Church for good.

    The Catholic Church is not a cult. I don't consider myself brain-washed, nor do most of the other 98% of Catholic women who use contraception. The Vatican needs to wake up and change its policies if it wants to keep its American Catholic base. The total demise of Catholicism in our country would not only be a spiritual travesty, it would be fiscally ruinous for the Church.

    Very truly yours, Patti Killian, Maplewood NJ

  8. Patti, to answer your questions I am a Catholic convert who was raised by atheist parents. I write with the authority that I am a Catholic who has read the Catechism and tries to apply it to her life. I am not a nun or theologian and in that we are obviously on equal ground, which I do not think we can say for the previous two qualifiers of my life. This is my blog which is why I responded to your comment, although anyone who cared to stop by certainly could do so.

    As to the rest of your comments ... you are very obviously angry and your mind is made up. Therefore as we have both had our says, I in my post and you in your comments, I simply will keep you in my prayers.

  9. Oh, Patti, it occurs to me just now that your question about if I am a theologian stems from the comments about the scripture in the post above. If you click through on the link at 1 Corinthians, you'll see the commentary that I've been working my way through. I mention it from time to time as points hit me. Anyway, that is what I meant when I mentioned commentary and the thoughts on it.

  10. Patti,

    Since Julie D was incredibly charitable in answering your introductory line of questioning, perhaps you would also answer a question?

    What do you see as the salient difference between the Catholic Church and the average Protestant church?

  11. LJP and Julie,

    I cannot profess to know a whole lot about any particular brand of Protestantism, though in general, the major differences between their faith and ours are: (i) they emphasize solo scriptura, whereas we derive our beliefs from a mixture of scripture plus church tradition; (ii) they believe one can get into heaven on faith alone, whereas we believe faith plus good works are necessary; (iii) they don't believe in purgatory, whereas we do; (iv) they see the host and wine as symbols of Christ's suffering, whereas, we believe in Transubstantiation; (v) they reject papal authority.

    To me, though, the most salient difference is the Protestant historical response to conflict -they break away. The Catholic Church, instead, has a rich history of self-reflection and reform. From the Church's initial break with Judaism to the Council of Nicea (in the mid 300s) which required cellibacy for priests and then, years later, limited the priesthood to men. Then to the Counsel of Trent to the Cunter Reformation which attempted to stem corruption within the Church - e.g., stopping the sale of indulgencies - and elevate the educational level of the laity by requiring all priests to attend seminaries. Then up through Vatican II. Since the 1980s, though, our Church has been barren.

    I see papal infallibity, which has existed only a little over 100 years - less than 5% of the Church's life - as an embarrassing, anacrhonistic doctrine that should be revised. I can't see Christ ever accepting that. In fact, he was the ultimate reformer. He could've been born a pagan, but instead he chose a religion that he sought to reform by railing against the pharisees over and over. And, intead of choosing an infallible rock on which to build his church - he could have chosen the sinless Mary - instead, he chose Peter who was anything but infallible. Sure, Peter was a great leader - tenacious, intelligent, passionate, with some money and some connections - but he betrayed Christ repeatedly. It is a central story of mistake and redemption our faith. How that ever became translated into the doctrine of infallibility is beyond me.

    I believe the time for reform in the Church is now, and I am frustrated, maybe a little angry at times, and terribly concerned that the current pope, who has modeled his approach after John Paul II, is going to run the Church into the ground with his incessant return to orthodoxy and, among other things, his denouncing of American and European Catholics as being cafeteria catholics. The American Bishops are the real cafeteria catholics in that they ultimately reject Catholic social teaching - see Caritas in Veritate.

    In my little world here in NJ, educated women who seek to raise their children in a faith-based home are leaving the Catholic Church in droves. Anna Quindlen, recently on NPR, said that, though raised a Catholic, having spent much of her professional life commenting on issues affecting the Catholic Church and after having raised her 3 kids as Catholics, said that, to her, the Church clearly doesn't want people like her, and now approaching 60, she finally took the hint and left the Church for nothing altogether.

    If women continue to leave the Catholic Church in droves, there will be no one left to pass on the faith, as women are the primary teachers of the faith, myself included. And that would not only be a spiritual travesty, but it would be financially ruinous to the Church as well. Thank you for your inquiry!

    Very truly yours, Patti Killian

  12. Patti, I believe your bleak view may possibly be because you have too little exposure to other joy-filled, growing parts of Catholicism. World-wide there is, of course, Africa and ... I believe John Allen has written a book about the growth in the Southern Hemisphere.

    In the U.S., for example here in Texas, Catholicism is fast-growing and seen as a hope for the future. And it is not just because of immigration but because of conversion of many sorts of people, as we see in our parish every year. It is an embrace of orthodoxy and what our society has been missing for so many years.

    I have to say that after having read your many comments, it is easy to see why you are frustrated and angry. Please forgive me for saying this, as I know it will anger you, but with my whole heart I recommend that you carefully read the Catechism, while asking the Holy Spirit to guide your understanding. (And, of course, while using your brain ... as we all must do.)

    I say this because your statements have shown a half-understanding of many core Catholic concepts, such as your statement about infallibility above (which is about a pope being able to declare doctrine ... after taking council with all the magisterium and the clergy from around the world ... not, as you infer, about papal personal infallibility). At any rate, if I had such a misunderstanding I'd want to go back to the core documents, not "what everyone knows" because our communities (while well meaning) can unintentionally mislead us.

    I implore you to return to the scripture in conjunction with the Catechism to see how the Church's teachings are extremely logical and follow 2,000 years of thinking of some of the greatest geniuses the world has known.

    We need passionate people in the Church, Patti, like you. But it isn't a one way street. You need the Church in its fullness, not in the half-understood message that the modern world has turned it into. I will pray for you and I ask that you pray for me. :-)

    Best wishes, Julie

  13. Julie, good luck on your Catholic journey. -Patti

  14. Hi. Katherine here (from the comment that triggered it all).
    finally found the time to catch up on all of this.
    thank you for your insight, all. I appreciate the attempt to exchange ideas from opposing viewpoints.

    Julie, if I might respond to some ideas. I don't have a problem with the concept of obedience, per se. But I do have a problem with the notion that to be Catholic, especially to be a nun or monk dedicated to the practice of the faith, is to be blindly obedient. I cannot imagine any of the people running the church, (or, frankly, any person of any power, influence, or success) advocating for obedience without thought. Here's where the idea of the "company" analogy falls apart: it's people who blindly obeyed that got us into the housing collapse and the Enron disaster. It's, well, uh, to be blunt, how the Holocaust happened. This is precisely why we need to constantly question the morality and causes and effects of our actions. If we were given the gift of reason, I cannot see any reason on earth why we shouldn't be compelled to use it, use it as much as possible. (Yes, I understand the analogy about the Lord being the Good Shepherd and we are the sheep... but I've always struggled with it. If we were mere sheep meant to follow, we wouldn't have that whole Bible full of dictates and analogies and complex ideas teaching us how to live, would we?)

    At the end of the day, the Vatican is made up of men in power, and they haven't always gotten it right. And they might have continued to not get it right again and again until other people, people like you or me, called them on it. I think change comes from the people, and not from the top. It's just a matter of figuring out where your beliefs actually lie, and I think the best way is to try to understand where other people are coming from in as open a way as you possibly can. (it's why I'm here, trying to understand your view. I don't agree, but I am listening, and I'm open).

    I am glad you have found a safe place in your Catholic Women's book club that still causes you to question what happens when your own beliefs butt up against those of people you happen to love. Please don't take this as a personal attack, but I wonder what would happen if you were actually able to engage in a similar way with people of radically diverse backgrounds and ideas. (Not that I don't believe you, by any means, but I imagine that people attending a Catholic Women's book club, by nature, would be at least three limiting characteristics of Catholic, Women, and Literate, which is a pretty small sample of the world population). Much of what changed my own opinions was venturing outside my small town and into a large city. My opinions on homosexuality changed greatly as soon as I realized that some of the people I love most dearly in the world are gay -- and also, first and foremost, PEOPLE.

  15. (part two)....

    My opinions on the roles of women in the church are complicated: I'm from a generation that says we GO, we can do anything we want, we are just as smart and talented and worthy as the men surrounding us... except, of course, for when something like this happens with the nuns and no one bothers to point out that it must have taken extraordinary faith on these women's parts to reconcile the fact that the institution they had pledged to serve for the rest of their lives with chastity and obedience was not ultimately interested in what they had to say.

    I hope you are okay with having conversations with people from other worldviews, I really do. There is such a division in our government and in our lives, the "us versus them" mentality that is so hateful and divisive. I'm glad your friend was able to come to a place of peace and reconciliation of her thoughts as a result. (A bit off topic, but fascinating to me: I listened to a radio clip recently that followed a group of extreme pro-life women and extreme pro-choice women on a multi-year journey to try and understand each other's points of view, and it's not about the abortion debate so much as it is about the psychology of belief and our desire for mutual understanding... if you're interested).

  16. Hi Katherine ... in terms of understanding people of different worldviews and your comments about understanding "us vs. them" ... let me assist by sharing a bit of my background. :-)

    I was raised by atheist parents, spent most of my life as a true agnostic wondering how anyone could know for sure there really is a God, and then spent much time examining my built-in, raised-with-them views that came straight from what secular society says is right (as versus obedience and Church teachings). This was not a short road nor an easy one ... and it often, almost literally hurt, when I realized that Church teachings very logically went back to Christ and the ten commandments so that if I agreed with those basic tenets then I myself was out of logical order in agreeing with some of what society taught on very big issues.

    That may make it easier to understand that when I read your advice (given with the best intentions, I realize) on being sure to mix with different sorts of people and to be sure I'm not limiting myself in the Catholic Women's book club (which has one of the biggest advocates for gay rights you will ever meet ... and whom I love dearly, btw), you actually made me laugh out loud. Mostly because it shows how easy it is for each of us to fall into our own traps when we think we know so much that we may advise others who we do not know at all. Welcome to my world, Katherine, because you just took a seat next to me. :-D

    I really do appreciate you taking the time to give such thoughtful comments.

    AS to obedience, you may enjoy reading what I wrote here a few days ago.