16 April 2015

The CDF, LCWR, and the Gamaliel Principle (Reprised with Introduction)

I am reposting this piece for two reasons: 1) today the CDF/Vatican announced the "completion" of the mandate given to Archbishop Peter Sartain, et al to assess and "reform" the LCWR, and 2) because we have the same first reading tomorrow almost three years to the day the mandate was issued. Despite the pain of the accusations accompanying that mandate, Sisters have indeed been faithful to their hope that ultimately God will bring good out of even the most unjust of situations and God's will would triumph. They have been faithful to prayer, presented a contemplative presence in the midst of serious difficulty, persevered courageously despite a sense that they had been seriously misunderstood and doubted  by the hierarchy of the very Church they have given their lives to and for, and just generally carried on their ministries and lives as consecrated Women religious are called by their Lord and his Church to do.

At the same time I trust that the CDF learned a good deal about US Women Religious and their Leadership Conference --- as well as about the Church in the US and around the world; many many lay persons and clergy in the US as well as religious and clergy from other countries supported the LCWR --- and while women religious may (quite justifiedly) be feeling vindicated by the conclusion cited by Gerhard Mueller today (cf. Mandate to Assess and Reform LCWR is Concluded) and the generous words of Archbishop Sartain, it is the wounded Church which is victorious today. Because of this decision to complete this mandate without substantive reforms of the LCWR, the Church as a whole is a bit closer to being the Church Jesus' Gospel calls for and requires. That is especially true if the dialogical paradigm modeled by both the LCWR and Peter Sartain is allowed to define the way other perceived conflicts and difficulties within the church are dealt with.

As Sister Sharon Holland, IHM noted from here in the US, [[We are pleased at the completion of the Mandate, which involved long and challenging exchanges of our understandings of and perspectives on critical matters of Religious Life and its practice. Through these exchanges, conducted always in a spirit of prayer and mutual respect, we were brought to deeper understandings of one another’s experiences, roles, responsibilities, and hopes for the Church and the people it serves. We learned that what we hold in common is much greater than any of our differences.]]

Post from 2012
If it is of Human Origin it will Destroy Itself. If it is of God you will not be Able to Destroy it:

Sometimes Scripture texts seem so straightforward we don't give them a lot of thought. The insight they convey seems routine, hardly worth making a big deal over. "If it is of God, it will persist; if it is of human origin it will not," is one of these. Abstract, apparently not very compelling, hardly demanding in what it asks of us, or providing much hope really. Just, it seems, a theological conclusion we can agree with (or not) and move on from.

Unless of course you find yourself threatened with death by the traditional religious leadership while you proclaim what you understand to be the good news of God's ultimate act of vindication, justice, and mercy as the Apostles in Friday's first lection. Unless you find yourself being asked to back off, to have a little humility, and let God be the judge as the Pharisees have been asked by Gamaliel. Unless, of course, you are freshly faced with a risen Christ who suffered and died a godless death at the hands of the established religious and civil powers so that nothing whatsoever would stand in the way of the love of God. Unless, for instance, you are confronted with a portrait of tens of 1000's of lives of patient discernment, faithful sacrifice, and persistent trust in God which extends over decades and decades and which demonstrates that when something is of God it will indeed not only persist but produce immeasurable fruit as grain pressed down, shaken together and running over.

This week the incredible demands and promises of this "Gamaliel principle" were brought home to me in ways I could not have imagined a week and a half ago. Two events in particular did this. First, there was the exhibit sponsored by the LCWR, Women and Spirit, which gives a good sense of the place of women religious in the history of the United States. Here before Catholicism was established, here before there was even statehood, Sisters came to minister. Sailing in twos and threes and fours, habited and landing in swampy, humid, mosquito-ridden land, they came. Prepared originally to teach, they nursed instead; prepared to nurse they set up orphanages; always they adapted and responded to the Spirit. Seeking simply to serve they taught, nursed, invented, built, advocated for the poorest and neediest, comforted, explored, researched, etc etc. They did not fit in neat boxes --- not in terms of the country they came to, nor (though always faithful to their vows) in terms of the ways Bishops and the institutional church expected them to live their lives. ALWAYS they shattered boundaries and constraints with their service to the Gospel.

Did you Know???

Did you know, for instance that it was a nun who co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous and was the first ever to admit alcoholics to hospital or treat the problem as a disease? Were you aware that a nun invented a low cost incubator which was effective for premature neonates and was affordable to every doctor, clinic, or hospital? Did you know that the Mayo clinic owes its existence to the foresight and advocacy of a nun? She enlisted the Mayo brothers and promised to build a needed hospital if they would serve as doctors. They promised and she carried through as well. Were you aware that it was Sisters from a variety of congregations or communities that served as Civil War nurses without regard for the side the wounded were on? Did you know that Sisters have been a central presence in every epidemic the US has had, nursing, doctoring, etc, without regard for the danger to their lives? Were you aware that it was Catholic Sisters that provided the first insurance coverage for loggers or who opened the still-extant NY Foundling Asylum with $5 and an empty building?

And of course, it was religious Sisters who built the Catholic school system -- initially in response to anti-Catholicism, or who personally corresponded with Jefferson to ensure religious freedom when it was hardly accepted and seriously threatened. (Jefferson responded with a promise to do all in his power to ensure such freedom.) Sisters routinely circuit rode, acted as architects, carpenters, and construction workers. (One Sister regularly treated those needing medical care in the Territory of New Mexico and was known for the quality of the care she gave. Despite never having been to medical school she was granted a medical license!) Sisters adapted their garb, and their schedules as necessary to pursue their various missions --- and remained vowed women of prayer at the same time. Later, Sisters became attorneys, surgeons, social workers, policy makers, scientists (did you know a seminal figure in the history of the understanding of DNA was a nun?), etc. These are some of the things I remember off the top of my head. At every point in US history Sisters were present adapting from medieval patterns of enclosed life and the narrower expectations of the hierarchy in order to respond to the Holy Spirit and the needs of people --- to serve an agenda of LIFE in its broadest sense as Christians have always been called to serve.

I was aware of some of these things, but not all, and the simple fact is that at every turn I was surprised by something more Sisters had done with few resources except their faith, courage, and a sense that they were called to serve in the power of the Holy Spirit. They begged, borrowed, and above all went where there was need. They grew the Church and brought her precisely where Jesus said she was to be --- to the least of the least, the sick, those without hope, those requiring comfort and hungry for justice. The exhibit was astounding and tremendously inspiring. I was both completely blown away by it and grateful to God for these women, for the legacy they have created and continue to create, and terribly humbled by my own very small place in this history. This Friday's reading from Acts could not have been more compelling in light of the huge task and danger facing the apostles entrusted with their new message of Jesus' resurrection: if it is of God it will persist and be fruitful beyond all imagining. But of course, living in this way takes imagination, creativity, courage, persistence, intelligence, and faith. It takes a willingness to discern God's will and follow it wherever it summons us. It takes a willingness to risk everything for a conclusion or harvest one might never see. And that was what I saw celebrated in this exhibit. Women and Spirit --- an ultimately indomitable combination.

The CDF "doctrinal assessment of the LCWR"

And then on Wednesday, the CDF published its "Doctrinal Assessment" of the LCWR. If the Women and Spirit exhibit spoke of the reality of Easter and focused my mind and heart on the truth of the first part of Gamaliel's Principle, this focused me on the danger the first Apostles found themselves in. Acting in good conscience, acting to proclaim the gospel but prohibited from doing so, prohibited from acting "in the name of Jesus, " and threatened with execution. It also, of course, brought out clearly Gamaliel's intervention:"Leave these men alone! . . .if what they are doing is of man, then it will not last. You may even find that you are fighting against God!"

Gamaliel was not counselling to passivity and abdication of the Pharisees' appropriate place in overseeing the law and life of Israel, but rather to discernment and humility. Neither was he giving the Apostles a free pass to do or teach anything they wanted, but an opportunity to demonstrate whether what they were doing and teaching was of God or not. With regard to both groups Gamaliel saw clearly I think, that God is always larger than we conceive, and routinely acts in surprising and countercultural ways. He interpreted the law according to the principle, "If it is not prohibited, then it is permitted." where a large number of the pharisees he was engaging approached life from the interpretive principle, "If it is not mentioned in the law, then it is prohibited." His approach was prudent and charitable and trusted both God and human freedom, whereas the Shammaite pharisee's approach was narrow, fearful, and controlling --- leaving little scope for the Holy Spirit or the imagination or creativity required by the Apostles of the Risen Christ.

This is only the third [second] week of the Easter season, and we are trying to get our heads and hearts freshly around the truth Gamaliel reminds us of: God indeed will ultimately win out --- but he also must be given room to work freely. Meanwhile as Jesus himself taught his disciples, it may also be the case that the "Evil One" has sown some weeds in with the wheat, but even if this is the case we cannot precipitously tear at the weeds because we will uproot the wheat as well. It takes humility to recognize that only God can adequately judge and resolve such complex situations, and wisdom to accede to Gamaliel's demands. My prayer is that the CDF and those representing them in this entire affair recognize the wisdom and profoundly Christian nature of the Gamaliel principle (it is a theological and pastoral imperative, nothing less), while the LCWR courageously and faithfully participate in what, despite current evidence to the contrary, has been publicly purported by the CDF to represent a "collaborative process." In some ways there could not be more at stake for the Church as a whole.