Tag Archives: Vatican II

Keeping Faith

4 Nov
Photo via Flickr user Michael W. May

Photo via Flickr user Michael W. May

My memories of the notorious sixties are not the free love and abandon of the sexual revolution but the incredible revival of the Catholic Church at Vatican II and the civil rights marches upending Jim Crow.  In that decade we experienced finding a way where there is no way.  The impossible can come to be.

The Second Vatican Council proved to be a crack that let the light of the modern world into the Church and let the Church loose in the world to do the work of justice and mercy.  The most revolutionary document of Vatican II called the people of God to solidarity with the least among us—“the joys and hopes, the griefs and anguish of the people of this world especially the poor and afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anguish of the people of God” (Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, #1).

Many Catholics have learned to put their faith into action and do the works of mercy and justice that Gaudium et Spes calls forth.  Liberation theologies arose in Latin America and spread as ways to give voice to people at the base of society and work with them for justice.  Pope Francis deliberately set the Jubilee Year of Mercy to begin December 8, the golden anniversary of Gaudium et Spes, which passed at the very end of the Council.  Pope Francis wants Vatican II to live and evolve.

I hoped the Synod on the Family might turn out to be a mini-Vatican II.  It met in October for three weeks after meeting for its first session in fall 2014.  After the first session Pope Francis called for consultation and listening sessions with the people of God in dioceses throughout the world.  Although the official consultation questions proved unusable, people found ways to communicate their insights and family issues to their bishops and Rome.

At the synod Pope Francis called for bold and frank talk.  He had bishops work in small groups to interact more.  The heads of religious orders auditing the synod ceded three of their six seats to women, so their three minutes each are in the record.

The 270 bishops who gathered aren’t exactly family men.  Some note they hear about family problems in hearing confessions.  Perhaps some have carried the smell of the dirty diapers or a baby’s spit-up from helping out with nieces and nephews or friends’ children.  Perhaps they have stood in for grandparents or aunts and uncles, corralled two year olds, lived their drama with adolescents, and scrounged rent when a boss cut back work hours.  Perhaps they have paid the rent for a person at the backdoor of the parish house.

I hoped that 270 bishops would bless remarried couples.  Pope Francis sped up annulments. The synod kept the door open by urging pastors to work with couples case by case and respect their consciences.  I hoped the 270 bishops could hear the sensus fidelium on the issue of contraception and pronounce the time of death.  The people of God have widely exercised their consciences on this issue.  I hoped the 270 bishops could accept that moms and moms and dads and dads can love and commit to each other and raise children.  But that would have been a surprise and – shock in some African countries where homosexuality is illegal.

Perhaps for a bishop it is hard to go forward without making past judgments seem fallible.  But in an evolutionary cosmos God comes to us from the future, urging us to all we can become, not just from the past.  The Holy Spirit has been at work in our world, making it new from the beginning.  The gospel has been at work for 2000 years, teaching us to keep the two great commandments.  We keep on.

These are the hopes of an educated white woman in North America.  I’m not a widow in Kenya who wonders what will become of the ten AIDs orphans she has taken in, nor am I a dad carrying a child on his back on the walk from Syria to safety in Germany.

Many cannot imagine marriage or civil union between same sex couples.  Since the seventies I have wondered why the Church and society doesn’t expect fidelity of same sex couples just as we do of men and women.  This is happening now that GBLTQ relationships are more out and public.  Partners I know reveal everyday they can love each other, their children, their parents, their friends.  The word is out they can keep the two great commandments of Jesus in the gospels.  We of the Church need to work at realigning moral law with biological science, Jesus’ gospel message, and people’s lives today.

“We discover the possible from the real.”  Karl Rahner

Sister Joan Mitchell, CSJ

Gospel Reflection for October 4, 2015, 27th Sunday Ordinary Time

29 Sep
Photo via Flickr user RebeccaVC1

Photo via Flickr user RebeccaVC1

Sunday Readings: Genesis 2.18-24; Hebrews 2.9-11; Mark 10.2-12

“Tell us, does the Law allow a husband to divorce his wife?”

(Mark 10.2)

Marriage is the topic in Sunday’s gospel.  In Rome this Sunday the Synod on the Family begins.  Second marriages is one topic on the agenda.  Many people in the pews pray the Spirit will breathe the embers of Vatican II into flame again.

Church documents praise the family but not in the everyday language we might use.  The Church describes the family as —

  1. a domestic church.
  2. the living cell of society and church.
  3. a school for social virtues.
  4. the first school of faith.
  5. a cradle of life.
  6. a value and goal most people seek.
  7. an icon of the Trinity.

How does your family fit the Church’s descriptions?  Who do you consider family members?

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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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