25 March 2010

The Prodigal Daughter

The majority of active contemporary religious women come in for a lot of criticism these days. Traditionalists are upset they are not teaching or nursing, directing Faith Formation programs and the like. They are said to have lost a sense for the heart of consecrated life, to have strayed too far into the realm of the secular, to have failed to remain in their proper religious preserve, dress in their proper separating attire, and so forth. Tonight I had a soup supper with my diocesan delegate, a Sister of the Holy Family, and this picture (which I had sent to her previously) was something she referred to in terms of one of the newer (and very demanding) ministries of her congregation. One contemporary problem the SHF have taken on is that of human trafficking.

For those unfamiliar with the charism and mission of the Sisters of the Holy Family, this congregation has always had the welfare of children and families at the heart of their concerns and ministries. They are, like Ruth in the Old Testament, gleaners, those who are attentive to and solicitous of the anawim who are overlooked or discarded by our dominant and affluent society. Today, little as we might like to admit the fact, the reality of human trafficking is all-too-prevalent. It is one form of societal blindness, deafness, forgetfulness and exploitation of the least and poorest of our world, and it is a place courageous and visionary women like the Sisters of the Holy Family go to minister in Christ.

While looking at this picture of the Prodigal Daughter, Sister Marietta referred to imagining what happens to young women and children caught up in this scourge: "what do they see, what have they experienced, why did they leave, what do they need to be brought home --- really and truly brought home?" (paraphrase) The Sisters of the Holy Family are committed to accomplishing this last task in whatever ways they can. Thus, for Marietta, Mackesy's picture is a poignant reminder of what it really means to be ministers in the contemporary world, to really be GLEANERS, --- and, along with Luke's story of the Prodigal Father, how offensive this might be to those who would restrict religious women from the secular world! (The scandal of the Incarnation is an ever-present reality whenever genuine Christianity is encountered by the religious establishment!)

Charisms and missions are the deep and stable underlying realities congregations (and hermits!) live their lives trying to embody. Ministries, which are more variable than these, change as the needs of our society and church shift and change in light of these deep realities. As Marietta reminded me tonight, "Vocation is that place where our own deep gladness and the needs of society meet." (Frederick Buechner.) In this time where contemporary religious women are under fire we should thank God that they have so profoundly internalized their respective charisms and missions as to be able to adopt traditionally consistent and demanding new ministries, no matter how apparently "irreligious" or unorthodox they seem to those with different commitments (and sometimes --- maybe often) with significantly less vision!