Saturday, January 14, 2012

Droppings from the Catholic Birdcage: "My Aunt Is a Sister . . . ."

From this week's edition of "Droppings from the Catholic Birdcage": this anonymous reader responds to National Catholic Reporter's latest report about the Vatican investigation of American religious women by suggesting that orders of American nuns which implemented the reforms of Vatican II are dying, while conservative communities that have resisted Vatican II are thriving: 

I can tell you that my aunt is a sister in Nebraska. She lives alone, has a regular day job, frequents a casino, and every once in a while will meet up with colleagues in her order for a meal. This is the life of a religious sister who can "Live in the questions"?

1.  She lives alone
v. "Julian of Norwich," Catholic Encyclopedia.
2. Has a regular day job
v. Acts 18:3, "Paul went to see them [i.e., Aquila and Priscilla], and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them."
3. Frequents a casino:
v. Matthew 11:19, "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!'" 
v. Mark 2:16, "And when the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, 'Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?'"

A recurring theme in the responses to NCR's article is that younger Catholics of the JPII generation (many of whom are logging in with these dismissive comments about nuns of the Vatican II period) represent the salvation of a decadent church ruined by Vatican II and the "hippie generation."

As I've said before, I have serious doubts about this thesis, particularly when so many Catholics of the generation making these claims have been deplorably catechized--and, in the case of Anonymous, appear not to know anything much at all about the long, venerable tradition of eremitic religious life in the church, or about the gospels'  warnings against the danger of slinging around charges about "frequenting casinos."  

Or about the rich and varied history of religious life in the Catholic church, which has long included apostolates and jobs for both religious men and women who live apart from their communities as they're engaged in their apostolic work and who gather for shared meals when their schedules permit this to happen--since the monastic model developed by Benedict, with its rules about communal living and eating, wonderful though that model is, began to prove inadequate as the sole roadmap of religious life early in the history of the church, particularly when urban centers grew up, requiring men and women religious to live and work among people in those urban centers, and not always in cloistered communities in the countryside.

It's hard to save the church when you don't know much about the church's history and foundations--even as you claim to have exclusive enlightenment that surpasses the enlightenment of all other generations.

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