Scenario 4: Reconciliation
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.