Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Droppings from the Catholic Birdcage: "Only Women Are Faced with That"

After several years (well, let's be frank: after even a few days) of reading comments by Catholics at various blog sites commenting on contemporary issues, I can write many of the comments in my sleep.  I know in advance what a certain ilk of reader representing a certain ilk of thought is going to say.

This seems particularly true in the case of Catholics of the hard right who, like everyone else who clings to the hard right politically and religiously, appears to have a playbook at his/her elbow as he/she pecks out set-the-world-straight replies to liberally inclined reporting about matters Catholic.  If the subject is nuns, for instance, and, in particular, nuns whose communities accepted the invitation of the Fathers who wrote the Vatican II documents to return to their charisms, listen to the signs of the times, and discern the Spirit's guidance in the contemporary world while paying particular attention to the least among us, that playbook dictates that those writing their anti-liberal screeds slamming the nuns use any or all of the following phrases in various combinations:

1. Hippie sisters. 
2. Traditional nuns = huge increase in numbers. 
3. Radical, prideful, post-Christian liberal women. 
4. Ought to leave the Catholic church. 
5. Good Catholics are confused by these radical, prideful, post-Christian liberal nuns. 
6. They betray the church and deceive the faithful. 
7. Abortion, homosexuality, women's ordination and a host of other wacky, way out, blasphemous and often totally immoral theological philosophies. 
8. These ladies. 
9. No longer even Catholic. 
10. Actively oppose the male hierarchy.

Think I'm exaggerating?  Don't believe me?  As God is my witness, that entire sequence of "argumentation" occurs in more or less precisely the words I've written above in the response of one allianceforlife to Peter Manseau's moving reflection about the valuable contributions of American religious women to the Catholic church at Religion Dispatches yesterday.

And here's the heart of allianceforlife's "argument"--the heart of every argument written nowadays by hard-right Catholics about American nuns and the Vatican's need to force them to "straighten up and fly right . . . or leave [and] . . . stop the phony theatrics and quit complaining," as allianceforlife helpfully suggests that the nuns do:

Discipline requires full consent and substantial mastery of the will. In the context of the authentic consecrated life, full consent of the will also requires at least the spirit of genuine humility, along with a sincere faith, and fervent devotion to Jesus Christ. 
Regretfully, the actions of these sisters illustrate a serious lack of all three.

It's all about discipline, you see.  Mastery.  Humility and consenting.  It's about obedience.

It's all about the obligation of religious women, along with every other Catholic, to do what Father tells her to do.  The heart of Christian life--and who should know this better than a religious woman--is to obey!  Implicitly.  When Father speaks.

And so authentic religious life--especially for women--must be all about discipline that develops mastery of the will so that one can consent fully and humbly when Master speaks.

This is the message of Jesus to all of us, allianceforlife maintains.

The problem, of course, is that this isn't the message of Jesus at all.  Not to any of us.  The message that the nuns have made central to their religious lives after Vatican II is straight from the heart of the gospels, from the lips of Jesus: put love first and foremost.  Live love rather than talk about love.  Do justice.  Lift up the lowly.  Pay particular attention to the least among us.

Go where the greatest need is.  Live with and love the poor, the despised, the unwelcome, the migrant, the stranger in the land, the prisoner, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the homosexual.

Obedience is nowhere at the center of Jesus's moral universe or his proclamation of the reign of God.  When he does speak of obeying the Father, it's crystal clear that he speaks of such obedience in the context of a life of reverential discipleship in which one lives for the values of the reign of God above all, precisely by incarnating in one's life the core values of love, justice, and mercy.

To maintain that the central theme of Jesus's message is about the imperative need of disobedient women--you know, the kind of human beings inclined to engage in "phony theatrics" and to resent a male hierarchy--to submit to Master Father is a bastardization, an egregious distortion of the gospel.  To place Jesus in the position of crafting a religious message all about the subordination to all-wise and all-loving Father of weak disobedient women prone to temper tantrums and belief in "wacky, way out, blasphemous and often totally immoral theological philosophies": this is seriously to misplace Jesus and his message.

Who was all about sitting down at table with despised outcasts, public sinners, and women--women who were considered to be sources of impurity by the religious authorities of his time and place, so that a devout male did not eat with women for fear of contracting their menstrual impurity.  And who was all about inviting those same impure women to walk with him as his disciples, along with men--a shocking act of egalitarianism for a Jewish teacher of Jesus's time and place, an act of radical feminism that helped place his life on the path to Calvary.

As Sr. Joan Chittister observes in a recent statement to Sojourners about the Vatican's "hostile takeover" of American religious women, isn't it interesting that the bishops never demand of themselves the hostile scrutiny and obedience they want to dish out to women: "Only women are faced with that—the very women whose work with the poor might well be able to give the church its best information about where the church ought to be and what it ought to be doing there."

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