[[Dear Sister, you wrote in a post last week, [[ They do not build themselves into their worlds by having families, pursuing wealth, creating business empires, and the like. They live compassionate lives of prayer focused on their call to live a holiness where God's love does justice. These two dimensions of their lives allow them to address the world which God loves with an everlasting love with greater vision and generosity than THEY might otherwise be capable of --- NOT necessarily with greater generosity than others who are called to a different vocation are capable of. ]] I thought that it was church teaching that religious vows of poverty and chastity allowed a more generous life than most people could achieve. You seem to be disagreeing with that. Have I got that right?]]
24 June 2012
[[Dear Sister, thank you for answering my question on living alone and whether that makes one a hermit. How does "desert dwelling" relate to what you have said in the past about the difference between silence AND solitude and living the silence OF solitude? They are linked aren't they? I also have a different question. How would it impact your life to hear the results of a survey about "Who is the real hermit?" with answers to questions about what people think hermits are like, how they dress, eat, recreate, what they read, how they pray, what characteristics most mark them, etc? I read about two persons doing surveys. One was this type. The other seems to ask for responses from hermits themselves. Have you seen them? Why would a hermit participate in such surveys?]] (redacted)
Thus, I do think surveys can be interesting and valuable sources of information --- especially if they are well done and accurately demonstrate what people believe to be true about hermits. Stereotypes are dangerous, particularly if they are held by people who are seeking to be hermits or those who participate in discerning eremitical vocations. The basic problem here is that hermits' lives are of tremendous value in a society which is intolerant of silence and touts individualism or narcissism rather than an individuality which is properly situated as a dimension of community. They are equally valuable for people who are trapped in situations which isolate or demean and require a way to redeem these because they suggest creative possibilities. But stereotypes --- which remain far too prevalent, do not serve in this way. Instead they tend to reinforce all of these elements: individualism, narcissism, isolation, etc. Surveys can help us be aware of and even understand such misconceptions; for chanceries or others dealing with eremitical vocations (or potential vocations) these may assist in recognizing when such things are driving an individual's desire to be a hermit or a diocese's admission to profession.
23 June 2012
Hi Sister O'Neal, I think you have written about this before but I read the following in a blog after I looked up "public and private hermit vocations". [[Or, if public profession is God's will and the hermit's accepted format for profession of promises or vows, Canon 603 does not need to be utilized or incorporated. If not, the hermit is publicly avowed and consecrated, but not bound by that Canon. Regardless of Canon 603 or not, a public profession is that: public. People know.]] Can you either comment on this or point me to other places where you have already done this? (redacted slightly)
22 June 2012
I have received several comments and questions asking me how it is I can support the social justice vision of the Nuns on the Bus tour. It seems clear to those emailing that my life could not be more different than the Sisters on the Bus. How can an eremite living the silence of solitude be embracing the same values as active, ministerial Sisters? How can (as I put it) we share the same heart and embrace such very different lives?
One of the very startling emphases in Sister Simone Campbell's presentation (found in the video posted here a couple of posts ago) is the complementarity between individual responsibility and koinonia or solidarity with our brothers and sisters. In speaking about the intimate relationship between these two found in Caritas in Veritate specifically and in Catholic social teaching more generally, Sister Simone made essentially the following statement which I will need to paraphrase somewhat: [[. . .It is the role of government to counter the excesses of any culture. [It is the role of government in the US] to counter [our excessive] individualism with the keen knowledge of solidarity. . . .it is solidarity which prevents us from slipping into isolation, loneliness, and depression. The only time we are fully human is when we are connected to others.]]
I don't think anyone reading my blog for the past 5 years will be able to miss the similarities in what Sister Simone and I have been saying --- though I have been doing it from the perspective of a hermit calling attention to 1) the dialogical and covenantal nature of the human being, and 2) the distinction between genuine solitude (which is communal and other-centered) and isolation (which is often selfish, self-pitying, bitter, and/or misanthropic). Quite often here I have spoken of the individualism and narcissism of our world and especially our society as countered by the hermit's authentic life of "the silence of solitude." You may also remember the comment a friend of mine made re inauthentic vocations to eremitical solitude: "in solitude we should hear the anguish and cries of the world; if we do not we are not mature enough for such a vocation."
How like the talk Sister Simone gave the other night referring to her own prayer and Yahweh's speech to Moses: "I have heard my people's cry. . ." The only things I have perhaps spoken of more often are the unnatural solitudes of our world which need to be redeemed, and the fact that human beings are called to completion in community with God and others --- a fact which is true of hermits as well, though that completion assumes a paradoxical form in their lives. Both themes are also central to the life Sister Simone lives, the message she proclaims, the work she does, and the passion which drives both of those.
What Sister Simone represents very clearly is a form of life which is countercultural and so, unworldly in the best Christian sense. It is, in other words, rooted in and supportive of the values of the Kingdom of God. It is prophetic because it confronts a central untruth of our culture (individualism and its variations of narcissism, greed, selfishness, and misanthropy) with the Gospel of God that says that in God we are ALL equal, all gifted with God's grace (remember this week we heard the reading announcing that God causes it to rain on the just and unjust), all called to wholeness and holiness, and ALL called to support the dignity and integrity of our neighbors in their quest for wholeness and holiness (love them as you love me). What I represent and speak about is identical except that the form of life in which I find all of these dynamics embodied is that of eremitical solitude. Thus, it is no surprise to me that Sister Simone's prayer centers often on desert dwellers and prophetic images of burning bushes and the dry bones raised to new life in Ezekiel, nor that my own leads to a sense of the strong sense of the other-centered and covanental nature of genuine solitude.
In an earlier post a reader objected that the Sisters who are part of member congregations of LCWR don't look like representatives of consecrated life because, presumably and generally speaking, they no longer wore habits. I said I would respond to that objection in a separate post so let me give it a shot. Let me be clear though: in this response I don't intend a comprehensive discourse on the issue of wearing habits. Instead I want to focus on one of the things that is happening because of the Nuns on a Bus tour --- namely the act of making clear "what a ministerial woman religious actually looks like".
Let's be clear, as a kind of introduction, that apostolic or ministerial Sisters often only wore the daily dress of their cultures. Some of the habits we identify today as "nun's habits" were really the widow's weeds of the day. In fact, Sisters wore these and were encouraged to wear them by other Sisters in the early days of the US because of the anti-Catholicism prevalent during that time. In time these costumes (the common European term for them) became a formalized habit which, rather than assuring these Sisters fit in well with the culture and society of their day and could minister effectively, stood out from the normal garb of the day. Various parts of such habits also eventually acquired religiously symbolic value but this was because they were intimately related to the consecrated women who wore them (including those in monastic life from the long past)--- not because the garb itself began as symbolic or religiously significant. Thus, we need to be aware that religious habits were born of necessity, custom, and association with the persons who wore them and the lives of generosity, prayer, and holiness those women actually lived.
In 1900 in a text called Conditae a Christo which still defined all religious life in a monastic shape but without strict cloister, and then 1917 with the Code of Canon Law, the Church recognized a kind of hybrid religious life which made normative anachronistic dress which sometimes had been forced on Sisters so they could be called "real religious." Often the Sisters' ministries had to be tailored as a result and so there were significant trade offs in the situation. After Vatican II, and because of its directives and values, women religious modified their religious garb, and often, as they re-examined the history and charisms of their congregations they went back to simple contemporary dress. They also began appraising their commitment to set corporate ministries or "apostolates" in light of their own charisms and the Council's teaching on the universal call to holiness. What was clear to the Sisters was that projects that had needed Sisters originally (the foundation and staffing of hospital and school systems) now could easily be turned over to lay persons. In any case, government took over the responsibility of education and health care in ways which made the Sisters' work to bring these to the marginalized less imperative or necessary --- and in some cases, less possible.
They moved on to other ministries which were as ground-breaking and unaddressed as had been health care and schooling for the poor and otherwise marginalized they had first been involved in. In such ministries archaic, expensive habits (and make no mistake that traditional habits were expensive in several ways!) were not helpful but in fact often created a barrier to those the Sisters sought to serve. Christ's presence never created unnecessary barriers. Unfortunately the result of all of this meant that Sisters largely passed from public view and many Catholics felt Sisters had abandoned them and the institutions they had established. Because Sisters weren't readily identifiable by distinctive dress and also worked on the margins of society rather than in parish schools, etc, many Catholics and non-Catholics wondered if they still existed at all. Neither did they realize that the changes in Sisters' ministries and dress were, in part, directly tied to a need to lift up the vocations of ALL of the laity to serve without distinctive dress or a kind of "special" status beyond the consecration of their Baptism in Christ.
Today in the Nuns on the Bus tour one of the things that is happening is that Sisters who were thought to have died out, abandoned ministry and/or the religious life, and whose consecration beyond Baptism was inextricably tied to distinctive garb, are demonstrating what they have been doing for the last 47 years since Vatican II ended. These Sisters are giving the lie to all the stereotypes and malicious rumors --- that, for instance, they are not women of profound prayer, that they are not living community, that they are unfaithful to their vows, that they have given up important ministry to deal in weird and wacky spiritualities, etc. Further, they are giving a face and voice to what it means to be a ministerial Religious today. In the Sisters associated with this tour we see deeply faithful, profoundly compassionate, and radically committed women whose credibility is rooted precisely in their commitment to their vows to stand in solidarity with those on the margins of society. They are making visible to the mainstream what has so long and unfortunately been invisible to most of the church --- lives of total dedication to God and those he holds as precious, and total consecration by God to lives of real holiness.
It is instructive and ironic that all of the media are still using the iconic images of nuns we associate with Sisters prior to Vatican II. In a sense the media is underscoring stereotypes and not paying attention to what is actually going on right in front of them, namely the public revelation of a form of religious life which is marked by simplicity and solidarity. Further, it is a form of religious life which is carried on by strong women who value their own womanliness and therefore empower women in this society more generally --- especially women who will never have "special status" in the Church and will never wear distinguishing garb which comes with the special perqs and deference attached to religious habits. In the Nuns on the Bus tour increasingly the images of the Sisters involved create normative images in our own minds of just what most consecrated women dress and act like today. This is a piece of the picture that has been missing and it is important. As a result, instead of looking for the presence of women religious because of their distinctive garb, we begin to look for them as the superficially hidden leaven in all kinds of vital "love-does-justice" projects and contexts. We begin, in other words, to seek (and to see that we are responsible for seeking) evidence of genuine holiness and compassion in the unexpected place -- a holiness and compassion which we can ALL find ourselves called to.
This is the original pattern of ALL religious life rooted in the incarnation of the Word of God. It is a pattern which has been recovered by women Religious who seek to empower others, not to garner esteem and status for themselves or their "state of life." It is a pattern which breaks open stereotypes and draws our attention to what is profoundly important, the reality of commitment to God and consecration by God lived out in hearts which are humble and with which we should all be able to completely identify. As important as I personally believe habits are in given situations, I recognize that they are ALWAYS less important than the more profound and personal witness given by the women Religious on the Nuns on the Bus tour (or in any other situation for that matter). After all, few in our church or society will ever wear habits or be able to completely identify with those who do; but everyone can identify with and be inspired by those who reveal their hearts to us during these weeks of the bus tour. They are the face of one form of religious life in today's church and we are privileged to see it so clearly.
21 June 2012
[[Dear Sister, I have read your blog for some time and have admired a lot of what you have written. You pursue a hermit life of holiness and prayer in separation from the world but how can you speak of the Sisters of the LCWR and Network as though their lives are also about holiness and prayer? They are too immersed in the world. They are too involved in social justice. When the Church talks about "consecration" she means "set apart for God". These sisters are consecrated but who can tell? They don't dress like it, act like it, or live like it.]] (Redacted)
Thanks for your comments and questions. I assume these are in response to my post about Holiness as a Love that does Justice so I would prefer not to repeat what I already wrote there. Let me just say that the active, effective love of God that reconciles, heals, and therefore does justice (sets everything to rights) always spills over into ministry. Reconciliation is not only about our own souls, but about our entire lives, the lives of everyone around us, and in fact, our entire world. It always impels us to reach out to others and work for their own dignity and welfare, their own human wholeness and holiness. It compels us to work for the Kingdom of God --- that realm in which God is truly sovereign and so, that realm marked by a covenantal love that makes completely just. For a very very few of us that means a solitary life of prayer and penance, a life of the silence of solitude. We believe such a life signals to the whole church that there is a foundational relationship which is the source and ground of our lives, identities, and integrity. The very nature of human life is dialogical, and in fact, covenantal; hermits call attention in an especially vivid way to one dimension of this truth in particular.
But the rest of the Church calls attention to this truth in other ways, focusing on different facets of it. In Baptism all of us are consecrated into this truth and commissioned to discern how it is God calls us to make it real in our society and world. But note that consecration here has two interrelated senses. First it means set apart in and for holiness BY God --- for only God who is the Holy One consecrates. Secondly it means set apart for God, for his will, for all that he holds precious. For the majority of people this means vocations which are secular. As leaven in bread most express their consecration in the world. They do so in the world they are immersed in, the world of family, business, politics, economics, academia, etc. As Vatican II emphasized, ALL are called to an exhaustive holiness no matter the context of their lives and mission.
Men and Women Religious are also called to this SAME exhaustive holiness. However, their own call means letting go of various possibilities so that they may live out this call to holiness in a life which is more clearly countercultural and more explicitly set apart by and for God. Through their profession of the evangelical counsels they forego some ways of living which may mitigate or distort this countercultural stance. They do not build themselves into their worlds by having families, pursuing wealth, creating business empires, and the like. They live compassionate lives of prayer focused on their call to live a holiness where God's love does justice. These two dimensions of their lives allow them to address the world which God loves with an everlasting love with greater vision and generosity than THEY might otherwise be capable of --- NOT necessarily with greater generosity than others who are called to a different vocation are capable of. They are not, as you say, immersed in the world yet neither are they uninvolved in it nor ignorant or uncaring of it; neither are they called to live apart from it in the same way a hermit or cloistered religious is. They are called, again, to live countercultural lives which summon the world to become the Kingdom God wills it to be --- the Kingdom where the Divine completely interpenetrates reality and all of us live as brothers and sisters in God. Afterall, this incarnational way of working for the Kingdom is precisely the way Jesus lived it and summoned his disciples to do.
Remember that "separation from the world" can have a number of meanings and expressions. While some treat this term as meaning separation from anything except a convent, monastery, or hermitage environment and life, in canon law it means separation from that which is resistant to Christ and NOT from the whole of God's good creation. Given this latter sense women religious who live more radically countercultural lives rooted in prayer and commitment to a love that does justice can be said to be every bit as faithful to this element of their lives as anyone else. In fact, to the extent they really are grounded in the countercultural values and vision of Christ, they may be more sincerely faithful to it than the so-called hermit who closes the door of her hermitage out of selfishness or individualism and does whatever she wants, or the Sister who lives comfortably in her convent pursuing personal holiness but who cannot or will not muster the compassion or real concern she should have for those living in poverty and/or in separation from love that makes whole.
You complain that the Sisters whose congregations belong to the LCWR are too involved in social justice to the detriment of any personal pursuit of prayer and holiness. But remember that Jesus spoke often about things like feeding the poor, visiting prisoners, etc, and one of the Gospel counsels we have is, "Whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, that you do for/to me." Apart from what I have already mentioned above about commitment to a love that does justice and flows from personal holiness, what seems to be critical for the Sisters we have been speaking of is the reason they are engaged in social justice. Sister Simone Campbell, who was featured in the video I posted, once noted that early on in the days of the civil rights movement she scanned the room in which a lot of fellow demonstrators were clustered and realized that while they all agreed on the action taken, no one else there was there on behalf of the Gospel of Christ. The Sisters who are involved in social justice activities are involved not only because of a holiness which issues in a love that does justice, but precisely because they take the Gospel counsels seriously --- including the counsels about the poor and least. I would suggest to you that this may not be maintained UNLESS the person is deeply grounded in prayer.
The life of women and men religious is a large and vital reality. It is composed of many streams and tributaries. We mustn't make the mistake of identifying one stream or current as the sole representative of a religious life of holiness and prayer, nor one as the only cogent expression of separation from the world. At the same time we cannot draw an absolute dichotomy between social justice and concern with individual holiness and lives of prayer. To do so is to call Jesus and the Gospel of Jesus liars. I hope this answers most of your objections and questions. The question of garb is one I will write about separately if you don't mind.
20 June 2012
I have read a lot of comments in response to the Sisters of LCWR and Network being too political, not sufficiently concerned with holiness or grounded in prayer. I have to say that my own understanding of the Gospel supports the clear connection between concern with social justice (which implies political engagement), holiness, and the prayer that is the source of both. Even hermits whose lives are focused in the ways of solitary prayer and the silence of solitude know that genuine holiness stems from prayer and issues in compassion while compassion issues in ministry and ministry is a form of love doing justice. We see this dynamic clearly from the remarks of Sister Simone Campbell as she and a group of Sisters begin their Nuns on the Bus trip.
I am reminded in Sister Simone's emphases (social justice and prayer) and the way they dovetail so well that one of the truly wonderful renderings of the NT's term "righteousness" is "covenant behavior". This is a translation that NT Wright uses. What this means is that we are righteous when we act out of the fact that God is actively and truly our God and we (together) are actively and truly God's People. Both words in this translation are critical: covenant, which points to the dialogical or communal nature of our existence, and "behavior" which focuses us on the living, compelling, and effective nature of the love which stands at the heart of this covenantal reality and also issues from it. Another word for the righteousness that results when God's reconciling love does justice within us and within our world, is "holiness". Unless there is a "love that does justice" at the heart of our being, and therefore, a love which impels us beyond ourselves to extend this justice-making love to our brothers and sisters, our society, and our world, we are not dealing with that "covenant behavior" --- that holiness --- which Jesus' life, death, and resurrection made real in our world. Genuine holiness does justice; the two simply cannot be separated from one another, and they certainly cannot be separated from one another in the lives of ministerial or apostolic religious.
It is not always easy to be transparent about one's prayer. Neither is it easy to make it clear that for Sisters involved in either apostolic or ministerial religious life a passion for social justice stems from prayer, is supported by prayer, and leads back to prayer. (Too often in discussions and debates critics arbitrarily draw lines between faith and political action, for instance, and we are left with a truncated and inadequate perspective on what it means to be a person of faith, a person committed to holiness, to covenant behavior in our contemporary world.) But Sister Simone managed all this in her comments above. My thanks to her for so clearly revealing the heart of this vital form of religious life.
19 June 2012
Posted by Sr. Laurel M. O'Neal, Er. Dio. at 8:09 AM
15 June 2012
Dear Sister, recently I read a hermit who claimed the word hermit meant one who lived alone. They said, [[The very word hermit is a label that means "solitary" in Old French, late Latin, and Greek. So perhaps the first hermit was simply someone who lived alone in a time when all other people lived together in family units, and a single person living by themselves would be unusual enough to have a word coined to describe the phenomena. Then others began to live like that first hermit, alone, or in whatever other ways that first hermit appeared, acted, and was for what purpose of being.]] Is this correct? Is it how the Church uses the word hermit? Thank you.
Solitariness is a part of the eremitical life, yes, but the word hermit (eremite) has its origins in the Greek word eremos, which means desert. An eremite (hermit) then is a desert dweller and there is much more involved in truly being a desert dweller than simply being alone. Consider what it means to live in the desert generally, and then in terms of the judeo-Christian heritage. It is in this way we come to understand what a hermit is from the Catholic perspective and how the eremitical life differs from simply being or living alone. After all, many people live alone; does this of itself make them hermits? I would say no.
Deserts and wildernesses are equivalent concepts or realities. They are places where human poverty and weakness are writ very large, where the horizon of human existence is seemingly infinite, and where the ability to be one's own source of life, to secure oneself whether physically, psychologically, or spiritually, simply and clearly doesn't exist. There is no room for delusions in the desert. Delusions kill. We know how fragile, finite, and threatened we are in such a place. In the face of such reality we ask the really huge questions implied by existence but often crowded from our vision by the comforts and distractions with which we live every day: Who am I? Why am I alive at all? How can I continue to live? How can my puny, insignificant existence really be of any meaning in the grand scheme of things? Is my life simply absurd? Should I hold onto life, should I fight for it or let go of it? Why or why not? And if I choose to live, then what is essential to that and how do I find it, supply it, or open myself to it?
These are some of the questions which well up in the wilderness in the absence of distraction and satiety. These are the questions the hermit lives out in one form and another every day of her life. But the hermit, especially the Christian hermit, also lives the answer to these found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For the Christian hermit, the wilderness/desert is also the place where the Jewish refugees from Egypt came to terms with and claimed their identity as God's own, ratified the covenant with their lives, and became Israel, the covenant partner of God. The desert is the context where the prophet John the Baptist was nurtured and called to proclaim a baptism of repentance. It is also the place where he learned clearly who he was and was empowered to proclaim the One he was not. The desert is the place where Jesus was driven by the Spirit of God's love to grapple with his newly divinely-affirmed identity as Son of God and the shape that Sonship would take in this world. Here he struggled with the temptation to misuse the gifts which were his: his power, his authority, his very identity; here he struggled with the temptation to relinquish his complete dependence upon God the Father and act autonomously. It was in the desert that in a special way Jesus claimed his own identity and embraced the values and wisdom of the Kingdom rather than the identity, values and wisdom the world affirmed and offered him.
Similarly, the desert is the place where Paul, following his Damascus experience and his initial acceptance by the primitive Christian Church spent time consolidating the changes in understanding his meeting with Christ occasioned. It was here that Paul reframed his own understanding of Law in light of the Gospel, where he worked out the meaning of Jesus' scandalous death on the cross, where he came to part of an ecclesiology which would move Christianity from being a sect of Judaism to being a universal faith. In short, in Scripture, the desert is the place where we are remade in solitary dialogue with God. It is where we do battle with the demons that dwell in our own hearts and the world around us; it is where we learn to live our own human poverty and weakness because we also live from a grace that enriches and strengthens us; it is where we learn to see our own smallness and insignificance against the infinite horizon of a God who loves us immeasurably and eternally.
More, we do these things not only for ourselves, but for what the Scriptures call the glory of God. What this means is that we do it so that God's presence and nature may be clearly revealed in our world through our lives. That is what it means in the Bible to speak of God being glorified. And of course, we do this so that others might be nourished and inspired by it; we do it so that people may find hope when there seems nothing and no one to hope in, so that people may be nourished and their thirst quenched when the landscape of their lives seems entirely barren. We do it so that the least of the least among us may discover and be affirmed in the infinite value of their lives and so even the most isolated may find that God is with them ready to transfigure isolation into solitude. Eremitical life witnesses to the essential wholeness that we are all called to in God through Christ, no matter our poverty, our weakness, or our brokenness and isolation.
The hermit's life then is not merely about living alone, but rather living alone WITH, FROM, and FOR God, and in a way which is specifically FOR others as well. That is why Canon 603 defines it in part as follows: [[Can 603 §1, Besides institutes of consecrated life, the Church recognizes the life of hermits or anchorites, in which the Church's faithful withdraw further from the world and devote their lives to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through the silence of solitude and through assiduous prayer and penance.]]
There is nothing unusual about people living alone today (nor in the past!). Many do so for unworthy or unavoidable reasons (selfishness, misanthropy, chronic illness, incarceration, bereavement, isolated old age, etc); some of these are --- or may be made --- even relatively pious. But very few have given their lives over to the redemptive dynamics and demands of desert living as epitomized by figures in our history like Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and so forth. For this reason I have to say the person who wrote the passage you cited is inaccurate on the very nature of what a hermit is and is about. This life involves living alone --- especially when one is a diocesan or solitary hermit --- but that is part and parcel of a desert existence which is very much more as well. One must define eremitical life in these (desert) terms or miss the mark completely.
Note: some of this I spoke of relatively recently --- not least in a post for the first week of Lent : Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Driven into the Desert by the "spirit of Sonship". Folks might want to check that out as well. It is also linked to the term "desert spirituality" below.
13 June 2012
[[Dear Sister Laurel, I have wondered before - and have read a lot of your stuff which relates to [the question of] just why you would choose to put yourself under obedience to a bishop - since being a lay hermit wouldn't require that. From my perspective it was a very radical choice at a time in modern church history when it seems particularly risky. Don't you find it so yourself? Do you have a Bishop you see eye to eye with?]]
No, my Bishop and I probably don't "see eye to eye" on a few things (I am not speaking of doctrinal matters here nor of our vision of the eremitical life), but we are also bound in a canonical relationship because of two distinct but related ecclesial vocations which the Church has recognized and affirmed, as well as because of the related commitments which we have made and she has accepted. We both love Christ and Christ's Church and care that the eremitical life is lived with integrity and faithfulness. At the risk of sounding self-serving, I trust and desire to trust that with the help of the Holy Spirit and for these overarching reasons we will both continue to act attentively and responsibly, as well as with charity and respect for one another in this common project. I have hope then that what risk there is is worth it --- particularly for this vocation and for the Church as a whole. I suspect that in this I am not much different from anyone with public vows.
07 June 2012
I don't often talk about the task of doing theology here, though quite frequently I am engaged in it when I write about eremitical life, its nature, prophetic role, capacity to answer or assist with certain contemporary questions, and so forth, or when I deal with topics like the theology of the cross, for instance. But recently the challenging and creative place of theologians and theology in the life of the Church has been coming up everywhere with insistent regularity and today is one of those.
One of the more difficult questions for theologians and for Rome is the relationship between theologians and the Magisterium of the Church. A similarly neuralgic question, not just for these two groups, but for the rest of the church as well has to do with the difference between doing theology and catechetics, that is, the distinction between "faith seeking understanding" and teaching others what the church teaches. The relationships in these questions are complex with points of overlap and ambiguity but above all the two groups are supposed to be engaged in a constructive, collaborative relationship where both serve the truth and the source and ground of truth we call God, and where trust is evidenced even (or especially) when theologians push the envelope by engaging new questions and perspectives which call for new ways of thinking of or speaking about the truth.
In its recent condemnation of the work of Margaret Farley, RSM the conflict between doing theology and doing catechetics is especially highlighted. There is no doubt that some of Sister Farley's positions are not in accord with Church teaching. Neither is that necessarily problematical from the theologian's perspective, especially when the work is mainly academic and geared to scholars, but of course it is quite problematical from the perspective of the Magisterium --- especially if theologians and Magisterium (of Bishops) cannot work together in a way which allows complementary roles to be made clear to the rest of the Church. (In Aquinas' day we had the magisterium cathedrae pastoralis (a teaching authority "of pastors" exercised by the Bishops) and a magisterium cathedrae magisteralis (a teaching authority exercised by "professors" or, that is, a Master or Doctor of theology), Readings in Moral Theology #3. When disagreements occured the Pope might eventually intervene but sometimes he reminded both sides of the need for humility with regard to the mystery of God and forbade them from condemning one another (cf Paul V). But the situation is different today --- on many levels.)
Today the CTSA, the Catholic Theological Society of America has made a statement supporting Sister Margaret Farley's work and speaking to the distinction between theology and catechetics and so, implicitly reminding us all that theology is an ongoing search for understanding which, precisely because of the incommensurability of God's mystery, does not cease with the Church's profession of faith. (Quarens in fides quarens intellectum is a present participle and therefore indicates an ongoing project).
The statement is found below. Some might also be interested in Gaillardetz's new book, When the Magisterium Intervenes, The Magisterium and Theologians in Today's Church which deals with these points. It includes the dossier on the US Bishops' committee's investigation of Elizabeth Johnson's book, Quest for the Living God and an analysis of the relationships which exist between theologians and the Magisterium of Bishops and how each are called to carry out their responsibilities towards one another and the Tradition of the Church.
STATEMENT OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE CATHOLIC THEOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA ON THE CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH’S “NOTIFICATION: REGARDING THE BOOK JUST LOVE: A FRAMEWORK FOR CHRISTIAN SEXUAL ETHICS BY SISTER MARGARET A. FARLEY, R.S.M.” (March 30, 2012)
On June 4, 2012, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a “Notification” entitled “Regarding the Book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics by Sister Margaret A. Farley, R.S.M.” The “Notification” judged that, in a number of respects, Professor Farley’s book presents positions on matters of sexual ethics that are contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium.
We, the undersigned members of the Board of Directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America, wish to note that Professor Farley is a highly respected member of the theological community. A former President of the CTSA and a recipient of the Society’s John Courtney Murray Award, she has devoted her life to teaching and writing on ethical issues and has done so in ways that have been reflective, measured, and wise. Her work has prompted a generation of theologians to think more deeply about the Christian meaning of personal relationships and the divine life of love that truly animates them. The judgment of the “Notification” that a number of Professor Farley’s stated positions are contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium is simply factual. In our judgment, however, Professor Farley’s purpose in her book is to raise and explore questions of keen concern to the faithful of the Church. Doing so is one very legitimate way of engaging in theological inquiry that has been practiced throughout the Catholic tradition.
The Board is especially concerned with the understanding of the task of Catholic theology presented in the “Notification.” The “Notification” risks giving the impression that there can be no constructive role in the life of the Church for works of theology that 1) give voice to the experience and concerns of ordinary believers, 2) raise questions about the persuasiveness of certain official Catholic positions, and 3) offer alternative theological frameworks as potentially helpful contributions to the authentic development of doctrine. Such an understanding of the nature of theology inappropriately conflates the distinctive tasks of catechesis and theology. With regard to the subject matter of Professor Farley’s book, it is simply a matter of fact that faithful Catholics in every corner of the Church are raising ethical questions like those Professor Farley has addressed. In raising and exploring such questions with her customary sensitivity and judiciousness, Professor Farley has invited us to engage the Catholic tradition seriously and thoughtfully.
John E. Thiel, Ph.D.
Susan A. Ross, Ph.D.
Richard R. Gaillardetz, Ph.D.
Chestnut Hill, MA
Mary Ann Hinsdale, I.H.M., Ph.D.
Chestnut Hill, MA
M. Theresa Moser, R.S.C.J., Ph.D.
University of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA
Jozef D. Zalot, Ph.D
College of Mount St. Joseph
Michael E. Lee, Ph.D.
Kathleen McManus, O.P., Ph.D.
University of Portland
Judith A. Merkle, S.N.D. de N., Ph.D.
Elena Procario-Foley, Ph.D.
New Rochelle, NY
June 7, 2012
Posted by Sr. Laurel M. O'Neal, Er. Dio. at 7:58 PM
I received the following notification today. Please join me in grieving the death of Mary Ann Scofield, RSM
Dear Sr. Laurel,
Sister Mary Ann Scofield, RSM, returned gently to God, Sunday, June 4, at about 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time in Burlingame, California, USA. She was surrounded by family, her beloved Mercy community, and the prayers of many. Being Sunday morning, perhaps she knew it was time for Mass and slipped away.
A beloved teacher, spiritual companion, mentor, and friend, Mary Ann was a founding member of Spiritual Directors International and served as the organization’s first executive coordinator in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Her deep passion for spiritual direction nurtured SDI from its humble beginnings, in her bottom desk drawer, to a global movement. Today, the global learning community of Spiritual Directors International includes more than six thousand members in six continents.
Mary Ann’s influence was global, and her impact, deeply personal. As a spiritual director, she trusted the movement of the spirit to help people claim and share their distinctive gifts with the world. In her own words: “I do believe there is a unique image of the Divine that is placed in each of us and all the activity of the Divine in us is to bring us to that true self.”
The global learning community of SDI holds, together, this time of memory and mourning. Sandra Lommasson, former chair of the SDI Coordinating Council shares: “[Mary Ann] once told me that the hardest thing of all is to truly take in how deeply, fully, unreservedly loved we are by God because it changes everything. I trust that she now soaks in that Love as a fully alive, liberated spirit dancing with her God.”
A vigil will be held for Sister Mary Ann Scofield, RSM, on June 13 at 7:00 p.m. at the Mercy Center Chapel in Burlingame. Her funeral Mass will take place on June 14 at 10:30 a.m. at the Mercy Center Chapel in Burlingame with burial and reception immediately following.
If you would like to make a contribution to the Mary Ann Scofield, RSM, International Scholarship Fund in honor of Sister Mary Ann Scofield, RSM, please follow the donation link. To share a personal story or tribute on the SDI website, visit the Tributes in Memoriam webpage. By sharing our stories, we keep Mary Ann’s legacy alive.
Posted by Sr. Laurel M. O'Neal, Er. Dio. at 7:21 PM
Until recently there was a notable silence from amongst all the various expressions of support for the LCWR. That silence was among men religious (and, with a handful of notable exceptions, clergy in the church), and precisely because these men share essentially the same commitments and vision, it was a painful silence. (I recognize that men religious often have added difficulties because they are often also priests. Still, the silence was painful.) The following represents the first breach in this silence and I personally hope it will not be the last. I also personally believe these men got it just right.
They appreciate not only what the Sisters do but the way they do it. They acknowledge the prayerful, thoughtful silence that preceded the LCWR's initial response to the CDF's charges and which sets the tone for the way they will proceed in this matter; they refer to official documents which call not only for dialogue but for leaving the responsibility for ultimate decision making in the hands of councils and conferences. They rightly distinguish between "remaining silent" on issues (as for instance, I often do in this blog) and questioning church teaching, as well as between moral principles which must be held, and the application of such principles where disagreement is completely legitimate. Most importantly, they recognize that the LCWR and member congregations are carrying out the mandate of Vatican II to attend to the signs of the times and proclaim the Gospel in response, as well as that they are doing so in a responsible and faithful manner.
One key sentence, it seems to me, (and the place this document differs from the CDF's) is that the Franciscans recognize and are grateful not simply for the service women religious' give but for their discernment. They affirm they are edified by this. One of the more superficial weaknesses of the CDF's assessment was that it began with a statement of gratitude for the women's service but then proceeded to denigrate and curtail any activity which suggested adult discernment and application of that to complex problems even as it criticized the nature of their service. Statements of appreciation and gratitude sound hollow at best and disingenuous or hypocritical at worst when they are undercut by criticism which is so broad and pervasive. But the Franciscan men got it right here and their example is edifying.
It takes courage for groups of men religious to write such an affirmation of those under fire by the CDF. Unfortunately, that is also a sign that there is something terribly wrong in our church. It should NOT need to involve courage to affirms one's sisters or brothers in this way in a church which is a communion in Christ. One should not need to fear reprisals ("canonical actions" or censure), for instance, nor even consider that perhaps we will fall foul of the CDF, CICLSAL, the USCCB, et al, for speaking the truth in such a way.
May 31, 2012
Open Letter to the United States Catholic Sisters
We, the Leadership of the Friars Minor of the United States, write today as your brothers in the vowed religious life who, like you, have great love for our Church and for the people whom we are privileged to serve. We write at a time of heightened polarization and even animosity in our nation and Church, with deep concern that the recent Vatican Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) may inadvertently fuel the current climate of division and confusion. We write, too, as a public sign of our solidarity with you as you endure this very difficult moment. We are privileged to share with you the journey of religious life. Like you, we strive in all that we do to build up the People of God.
As religious brothers in the Franciscan tradition, we are rooted in a stance of gratitude that flows from awareness of the myriad ways that God is disclosed and made manifest in the world. For us, there can be no dispute that God has been and continues to be revealed through the faithful (and often unsung) witness of religious women in the United States. Thus we note with appreciation that the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith (CDF) “acknowledges with gratitude the great contributions of women Religious to the Church of the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years.” We certainly know how much our service has been enriched by the many gifts you bring to these ministries.
However, your gift to the Church is not only one of service, but also one of courageous discernment. The late 20th century and the beginning of this century have been times of great social, political and cultural upheaval and change. Such contextual changes require us, as faithful members of the Church, to pose questions that at first may appear to be controversial or even unfaithful, but in fact are asked precisely so that we might live authentically the charisms we have received, even as we respond to the “signs of the times.” This is the charge that we as religious have received through the “Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life” from the Second Vatican Council and subsequent statements of the Church on religious life. We believe that your willingness to reflect on many of the questions faced by contemporary society is an expression of your determination to be faithful to the Gospel, the Church, the invitation from Vatican II and your own religious charisms. We remain thankful for and edified by your courage to engage in such reflection despite the ever-present risk of misunderstanding.
Moreover, we are concerned that the tone and direction set forth in the Doctrinal Assessment of LCWR are excessive, given the evidence raised. The efforts of LCWR to facilitate honest and faithful dialogue on critical issues of our times must not result in a level of ecclesial oversight that could, in effect, quash all further discernment. Further, questioning your adherence to Church teaching by your “remaining silent” on certain ethical issues seems to us a charge that could be leveled against many groups in the Church, and fails to appreciate both the larger cultural context and the particular parameters of expertise within which we all operate. Finally, when there appears to be honest disagreement on the application of moral principles to public policy, it is not equivalent to questioning the authority of the Church’s magisterium. Although the Catholic moral tradition speaks of agreement regarding moral principles, it also – from the Middle Ages through today – speaks of appropriate disagreement regarding specific application of these principles. Unfortunately, the public communications media in the U.S. may not recognize this distinction. Rather than excessive oversight of LCWR, perhaps a better service to the people of God might be a renewed effort to articulate the nuances of our complex moral tradition. This can be a teaching moment rather than a moment of regulation -- an opportunity to bring our faith to bear on the complexity of public policy particularly in the midst of our quadrennial elections.
Finally, we realize and appreciate, as we are sure do you, the proper and right role of the bishops as it is set out in Mutuae Relationes to provide leadership and guidance to religious institutions.[i] However, the same document clearly states: since it is of utmost importance that the council of major superiors collaborate diligently and in a spirit of trust with episcopal conferences, ‘it is desirable that questions having reference to both bishops and religious should be dealt with by mixed commissions consisting of bishops and major religious superiors, men or women. …Such a mixed commission should be structured in such a way that even if the right of ultimate decision making is to be always left to councils or conferences, according to the respective competencies, it can, as an organism of mutual counsel, liaison, communication, study and reflection, achieve its purpose. (#63)
We trust that CDF was attempting to follow their counsel from Mutuae Relationes; however, we fear that in today’s public media world their action easily could be misunderstood. We hope that our bishops will take particular care to see that the way they take action is as important as the actions themselves in serving the People of God. Otherwise, their efforts will surely be misunderstood and polarizing.
Lastly, we appreciate the approach that you at LCWR have taken to enter into a time of discernment, rather than immediately making public statements that could be construed as “opposing the bishops” after the release of the Doctrinal Assessment. The rancor and incivility of public conversation in the United States at this time make the possibility of productive dialogue more difficult to achieve. We pray that the future conversation between LCWR and CDF might provide an example to the larger world of respectful, civil dialog. Such dialog will require a degree of mutuality, trust and honesty that is absent from much of our world. We trust that you will continue your efforts to live out this principle, and we trust and pray that our bishops will do the same.
Please be assured of our on-going support, prayers, respect, and gratitude for your living example of the following of Christ in our times.
Leadership of Franciscan (O.F.M.) Provinces of the United States
Assumption BVM Province
Franklin, WI, U.S.A.
Holy Name Province
New York, NY, U.S.A.
Immaculate Conception Province
New York, NY, U.S.A.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Province
Albuquerque, NM, U.S.A.
Sacred Heart Province
St. Louis, MO, U.S.A.
Saint Barbara Province
Oakland, CA, U.S.A.
Saint John the Baptist Province
Cincinnati, OH, U.S.A.
Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes, Directives for the Mutual Relations Between Bishops and Religious in the Church, Rome, May 14, 1978
01 June 2012
The following is the initial response of the LCWR board to the CDF's doctrinal assessment of the group which was released this morning. I am posting it here in full. My own belief is that every step of this process will need to be made as public and transparent as possible if the Church is to be truly served and further damage prevented.
For those wondering how they could support the LCWR, two things come immediately to mind besides suggestions which have been made in the past month:
1) support the travel expenses of the Sisters to Rome. Ordinarily the Sisters travel there once a year, sometimes twice, and travel expenses are (appropriately) paid for by the member congregations. Rome does not assist with such expenses. In this case, however, the whole Church needs to assist the Sisters, for it seems to me that the whole Church has much at stake here.
2) Continue to speak up for and demand transparency and clarity. If Rome understands the nature and basis of the charges against the LCWR, demand that they explain them not only to the LCWR, but to the Church at large both specifically and in sufficient detail to be convincing. If the Sisters are guilty of what the CDF has accused them (radical feminism incompatible with the Catholic faith, not spending enough time on one form of or focus in ministry when we are busy with others, loss of Christological focus, etc) I am afraid most of us (including those clerics whose ministries and lives are in Rome!) are guilty of the same or at least similar things without even knowing that is the case! If Rome feels the sanctions brought against the conference are proportionate and just, then ask --- and continue asking --- that they explain the reasons for these specific sanctions and their proportionality.
In addition, as has already been suggested a number of places, folks need to:
3) Continue to write to the Papal Nuncio in Washington DC, to the CDF (Prefect, William Cardinal Levada), to the Congregation for Religious (CICLSAL), and to ABp Peter Sartain, and Bishops Blair and Paprocki with your concerns, support, questions, and respectful disagreement or agreement. If Rome is clear that this is to be a collaborative process, then by all means, let's do whatever we can to make collaboration a reality which assists Rome to reform the church itself from top to bottom! Let us all be equally obedient and subject to God in his Word and Spirit! If Rome is clear that this process is to bring healing and greater Christian witness across the board, then let's participate in ways which help ensure that is realized.
4) Continue committing to regular prayer in support of the Sisters and the Church as a whole as we all find ways to respond adequately in this crisis. Mark specific dates (e.g., June 12th, the date when two Sisters fly back to Rome for the first time and the days which follow, etc) for special prayer periods, vigil, etc.
[Washington, DC] The national board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) held a special meeting in Washington, DC from May 29-31 to review, and plan a response to, the report issued to LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The board members raised concerns about both the content of the doctrinal assessment and the process by which it was prepared. Board members concluded that the assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency. Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission. The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.
On June 12 the LCWR president and executive director will return to Rome to meet with CDF prefect Cardinal William Levada and the apostolic delegate Archbishop Peter Sartain to raise and discuss the board’s concerns. Following the discussions in Rome, the conference will gather its members both in regional meetings and in its August assembly to determine its response to the CDF report.
The board recognizes this matter has deeply touched Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the world as evidenced by the thousands of messages of support as well as the dozens of prayer vigils held in numerous parts of the country. It believes that the matters of faith and justice that capture the hearts of Catholic sisters are clearly shared by many people around the world. As the church and society face tumultuous times, the board believes it is imperative that these matters be addressed by the entire church community in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, and integrity.