“Hope in a Prison Of Despair”, a Public Domain Image c/o Wikimedia
I have been watching the crisis between the nuns or “women religious” (as they are known) and the Catholic Church in Rome I am confounded–and I am not easily made to confound. It seems as though the people who have made Catholicism more appealing and friendly in the last couple of decades are the people being denigrated for those appealing characteristics of loving and caring for others. I kept wondering what I wanted to write my first Tikkun Daily post on, as the Huffington Post crowded my overstuffed mailbox day after day with of headlines containing the words “nuns” and “Vatican.” So with a smile and a shrug I said, “Ok, God, I get it. I’ll write this blog post.”
I am a born and raised Catholic (currently practicing Episcopalian) carrying the spiritual heritage of my namesake St Teresa of Avila in my passion for contemplative prayer, and as an orphan in a Colombian orphanage I was given that name by the Grey nuns–an active caregiving order. Additionally, my aspirations for living missionally in the world came out of a childhood experience in the height of Mother Teresa’s influence in the Catholic world and the world at large. I have a great affinity for the communal lineage of caring done by these saints in habits; some recognized as such, and many others just quietly doing the good work of God without any hopes for recognition.
I am saddened by the kind of systemic breakdown that causes the tops of hierarchies to become so detached from the living, breathing essence of their community that they create edicts to shrink the size and shape of love into tiny boxes. This can happen in any system, and any religion, and seems to be happening in a huge way, presently, in Catholicism.
A lot has been said about the 1% of the world and the deep canyon of space between those at the top and those at the bottom. In this religious context there is a great gorge of darkness between those defining the rules of religion and those actively fighting to live as the Body of Jesus (and the workers of the Church) in the world.
“It is a hostile take over, there’s no doubt about that. They’re ‘cleaning up the church’ — everything except themselves.”
It seems that the Catholic Church in Rome has reflected back to the world the very nature of the world right now–survival of the richest (and the most powerful) in clear-cut Darwinian logic. However, in an unforeseeable response from the public, the Church’s edicts and judgements have stirred something critical in its members and those outside of its Church’s walls. They bullied the one part of the Church that no one in good faith and conscience could stomach, the caregivers, the mothers, and the change-makers embodying a living God on earth–the “women religious.”
The statement on behalf of the “fittest” in which leadership in Rome chastised the nuns for what they called “radical feminism” proported to threaten the teaching and body of the Catholic church has, in fact enacted a paradigm shift surprising to many. The nuns of the Church, the people of the Church, and bystanders in all faiths of origin have said “No” and began to voice their anger, sadness, and discontent. It was a swift awakening by pain–which (as Franciscan Theologian Richard Rohr always articulates in his writing and speaking) seems the only way awakening can ever happen, through pain. In using that pain as energy, people are saying “No, that is not ok.”
In the wake of painful transformation nuns stand besides Catholics, Christians of all denominations, and interfaith communities, and their voices are getting louder, and their words are being heard. Will the hierarchy listen? Will the religious 1% back down in the wake of the quake they have created? I don’t know. But what I do know is that people are caring, and people are rising, and in that space where voices can be heard, change is being made in a larger, more contextual way. The change that is happening is powerful and palpable and it is a social experience we should all see, hear, and give voice to.
As said by Sr. Chittister, in her final words at the end of Paul Brandeis Raushenbush’s interview in the Huffington Post:
“When you want to make all of your thinkers parrots, puppets, don’t talk to me about your respect for the Holy Spirit.”
Preach on Sister.
Whether you know, or care any about this particular issue in this particular sect of Christianity, we must all be awakened when the voiceless are pushed to a space where their cause must be heard, and when the marginalized can’t tolerate the living conditions in the margins. I think this example in our contemporary world speaks to something much greater than the specifics. It speaks to a powerful minority becoming so divergent from the path of its intent that it forces the people in the community and people at large to find voice to speak for the margins.
We are in a world with an ever-widening space between the powerful and the margins and we all need to continue to build our strength and find our voice.
Because, as the nuns and their advocates have portrayed, every voice matters. In the flurry of discontent we are shown that strength and change can happen when we act from conscience, raise our voices from the margins and for those in the margins, and tell the stories that need to be told.
T.B. Pasquale is a contemplative prayer advocate, ecumenical and interfaith conversationalist, yoga teacher, and trauma psychotherapist. She leads contemplative prayer groups and facilitates contemplation workshops. In addition, T.B. is a lay leader in ministry for 20′s & 30′s discussion/worship in the Episcopal Church at www.seekersconvo.blogspot.com. She is the founder of “The Society for Young Christian Contemplatives” which she created in an effort to give a voice to the need for cultivating silence in the everyday of our contemporary world. T.B. has written articles/posts for The Ooze, Burnside Writer’s Collective, The New Social Worker and America Magazine. She is currently working on a fictional exploration of a couple of mystics titled Barefoot Saints as well as a collection of essays on her personal spiritual journeying titled A Season of Dying. T.B. lives in South Florida with her husband and three dogs. She can be found at www.crookedmystic.com, @tbpasquale on Twitter, or www.facebook.com/tb.pasquale. She can be contacted at tbpasquale[at]gmail[dot]com.