Tag Archives: Vatican II

Possible Futures for Catholic Sisters: The Fourth Scenario

26 Nov

Scenario 4: Reconciliation

Read scenarios one, two and three here.

Doing the work of dialogue and reconciliation resonated with sisters I spoke with at the 2007 meeting. In the scripture Sister Laurie chose for this scenario, Paul describes reconciling old and new as a core ministry in the Church: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who has reconciled us to Godself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5.17-18).

Reconciling is the painful process that countries such as South Africa, Guatemala, and Ireland have done in their truth and justice commissions to end the killings and impoverishments of too many. Reconciling involves dialogue, which can only really happen between equals. Dialogue is not women religious agreeing to what bishops order, nor vice versa. Real dialogue takes participants to new shared understandings.

Many sisters alive today participated in protesting the Vietnam War, the renewal of Vatican II, the Civil Rights movement, the continuing worldwide women’s movement, the gay rights movement. Today we acknowledge each of us sees from where we stand without a monopoly on truth. Science finds the cosmos in motion, its center everywhere. Truth demands circles of dialogue.

The bishops’ critique of Elizabeth Johnson’s book Quest for the Living God illustrates on what different pages bishops and sisters are reading their theology. The subhead of the book is Mapping Frontiers in the Theologies of God, a clue that Sister Elizabeth is looking at recent theologies, actually the work of some 175 theologians, who describe the suffering God of the Holocaust, the liberating God of the exodus and Mary’s Magnificat, the festive God of Hispanic culture, the black God of African American slave experience, the dynamic God of quantum physics and evolutionary theology, the boundary-less Spirit of ecumenism, Sophia God of feminist theology, and the womanist God of survivors like Shug in The Color Purple. Most bishops aren’t reading these theologians. Their critique insists theology must start with God’s revelation recorded in scripture rather than with God’s revelation in our human experience. Books groups with bishops might be a place to start the work of reconciling.

Sisters today live and minister in a world that is secular in its separation of Church and state but dynamic, democratic, inclusive, peace-seeking, earth-loving in its energy. It’s a world in which people live holy lives. Our rediscoveries of our origins have taken religious communities out of the cloister that the 1917 Code of Canon Law re-imposed and into the streets of the world to help the afflicted thrive, especially other women. The aggiornamento of Vatican II has taken sisters—to governance as equals, to ministry as theologians, to advocacy for justice for the poor, to outreach to people falling through the cracks.

In the last 50 years since Vatican II, sisters and our colleagues have taught two generations of Catholics who think critically and seek to serve in the world. Their grandchildren are now putting their faith into action and becoming social entrepreneurs who will go on without any of us who don’t keep up. Many have learned well the great commandments and Catholic social teaching.

To reconcile requires active engagement. Perhaps bishops might do the undercover boss thing and serve in our ministries as a way to begin dialogue and befriend our neighbors in the secular world—or book groups or dinners among friends.

What can I do to bridge the separate worlds of people and leaders in our Church?

How do I use my expertise and voice my experience for the common good?

Who sits at my table? Whose tables have room for me? At what tables am I committed to stay? What is at stake in our conflicts?

What helps me hold conflicts in tension rather than resolve them into polarities?

What is a book I would like to read and talk about with someone who tends to disagree with you?

This series was written by Joan Mitchell, CSJ.

Possible Futures for Catholic Sisters: Scenario 3

25 Nov

Scenario 3: Sojourning in a Strange Land

Read about the first and second scenarios by Joan Mitchell, CSJ.

The third scenario tells the heartbreaking story of Hagar (Genesis 21.9-21). Hagar is Sarah’s Egyptian maidservant. African American women have long identified with Hagar because she is both a servant and a surrogate mother as many black women have been in our U.S. history. When Sarah cannot bear the child God promises, she insists Abraham have a child with Hagar. But after Sarah has her own son and watches Hagar’s son Ishmael flourish, she grows jealous and insists that Abraham put Hagar out of their tent and out into the desert with her child. God does not get the message; God does not abandon Hagar and her child.

This casting out is a woman against woman act, Sarah exercising her privileged position against Hagar. Similarly some of the 20% of the sisters in the U.S. that are in the more traditional religious communities have urged the Vatican investigations of the 80%, Sisters against Sisters.

Hagar runs away in Genesis 16 when Sarah deals harshly with her. Hagar sits near a spring where God sees her and promises her many descendents, the same promise God makes to Abraham and Sarah. The angel urges Hagar to go back and she does. “Have I seen God and remained alive?” Hagar asks and names the spring for El Roi, God who sees.

In Genesis 21, Sarah puts Hagar out into the wilderness. When the skin of water she carries runs out, Hagar sits apart from her child because she cannot stand to watch him die. God hears the child cry, and a spring appears. In the Quran, the sacred text of Islam, Hagar is the pioneer foremother whose sojourn in the desert begins the holy history of Muslim faith. Pilgrims on the hajj imitate her search for water in the desert. Hagar’s story is the original Arab Spring.

God sustains Hagar outside the tent of Abraham and Sarah. God’s tent has no outside.

The bishops investigating the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) charge us with sojourning in a strange land. They want to supervise our meetings and choices of speakers. They cannot imagine the Holy Spirit animating their would-be maidservants and helping us find sustaining grace in our contemporary wilderness.

This is not the scenario with which most sisters at the annual conference identified as we talked at tables. Sisters have indeed moved beyond pre-Vatican II boundaries but not outside the Church as the People of God, who stand in solidarity with the afflicted in our global world, not outside the gospel message or sacramental worship. Perhaps the bishops regard forging ecumenical or interfaith bonds as sojourning in a strange land. Or perhaps immersing ourselves in how evolutionary cosmology and quantum physics affect our theology of God is dangerous, or our commitment to sustain our planet, or our advocacy for people who are poor, or our commitment to speaking out for the common good. Still it is the Church that has called us to the prophetic ministries we pursue.

What tensions can communion among the people of God hold without breaking?

How might equality for women renew the Church and its mission to the world?

What is so threatening about sisters and about women in the Church?

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