Two days ago, after assessing the evidence gathered by investigation of religious life in the United States, the Vatican announced that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), needs a reform. The Vatican listed doctrinal and practical issues at the heart of the mandate for reform. (as an aside, my SOLT community is NOT a part of this organization. We are members of the other organization the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, CMSWR)
This mandate for reform will potentially be a very explosive situation. I am personally glad that Archbishop Sartain has been chosen to lead this reform, he has a special charism which I believe will help in the healing of this process.
Allow me, as a religious sister, to say a few things about this mandate and the situation of the women in the LCWR.
First of all, don't believe the hype of the mainstream media. You will most likely read stories that this is yet another "war on women" by a male hierarchy or that it is another example of the Church imposing itself upon the private lives of people. None of that is true.
Let's be really honest, religious life in the United States has changed dramatically in the past 50 years. And although reform was needed, religious habits were "modified" and further exploration was taken into new forays of service for the women, not all of this has been good. The number of women religious in America has dropped dramatically in the past 50 years and people are left scratching their heads and wondering, "Why?"
What we find today in many religious orders is that the women no longer live or pray together in community, they no longer wear an identifiable habit and many are teaching and professing beliefs that are not part of the Catholic Church. Their communities are dwindling and new members are hard to come by.
What many people don't want to talk about is the fact that the newer communities who do live and pray in community, wear an identifiable habit, teach and profess beliefs that are at the heart of the Church (which we call being faithful to the Magisterium of the Church) are growing. They are attracting young, vibrant, educated women. Obviously this is saying something loud and clear.
It seems to me that the former situation is what many communities within the LCWR are facing. And there are many women in this organization who are honestly seeking to serve the church and attract new members to their communities and are confused as to why things don't seem to be working. However, their method of trying to answer the confusion doesn't seem to be getting them anywhere.
So the question is, "What is at the heart of religious life?"
Is religious life merely a group of women gathered together to serve the Church? Are they social workers? Are they individuals seeking personal fulfillment who happen to be part of the Catholic church? Are they somehow free to redefine doctrine and teach whatever they want because they bear the title "sister?"
The answer to all of the above is no.
The heart of religious life is a marriage, body and soul, to Jesus Christ. We are Brides of Christ. This is most fundamental reality of religious life and who we are. From that relationship flows everything else. We are Brides of Christ within a Church founded by Him.
Rather than the Vatican forcing reformation on a group of women (which is read by many as "these power- hungry men are trying to force women to do what they want and conform to a powerless ways of life"), the Vatican is merely pointing out that the communities in the LCWR have a dysfunctional marriage.
How could a couple remain happily married if one of them was unfaithful and not interested in repairing the relationship? What if one of them kept on attacking the other, speaking out against their Beloved and refusing to allow anyone to look at the issues? That marriage wouldn't last and we know it.
There will always be conflict and tension between men and women, between family members, on this side of heaven. Nothing is perfect. But we do have a choice.
When you say you are a sister, you profess that you have made vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to your community in service of the Church at large and to all God's people. You are giving your ultimate "yes" to life, true love and service.
No one is forced to become a sister and enter religious life. Jesus is the one who asks, who proposes, but even He doesn't force Himself upon a woman. In fact, this commitment is so serious that it takes anywhere from 8-10 years for a woman to complete formation, profess first vows, and then make final vows. A woman has plenty of time to discern this call from Jesus and if she wants to embrace it and everything it entails. It's not an easy life whatsoever but to those who are called, this life showers the beauty of heaven upon earth.
It is a life worth living and it is worth living well.
Much healing needs to take place in all of our hearts. Authentic discipleship leads us along the path of daily conversion away from our brokenness and toward Jesus, The Man. We are all servants of the Truth.
So, before this issue gets too big, I invite you to think about it logically and reasonably. Pray for Archbishop Sartain and his assistants. Pray for the women of the LCWR and pray for all Catholics.
We need to make a choice. We will stand firm with the Truth or will we be washed out to sea?