An Uppity Woman Prays for Answers

An Uppity Woman Prays for Answers April 18, 2012
Honest to You, God, I don’t get You.
I mean, if You had told me anytime before noon today that I would end up feeling sympathy (a weird, twisted, highly reluctant sympathy, but sympathy all the same) for a bunch of schismatic anti-Semites, I’d have guffawed. But then came the release of the public report on the latest . . . I don’t even know what to call it, though Rocco Palma uses the term inquest, which is generally used to describe what happens when someone’s been whacked and everybody wants to know whodunnit, so I guess that’s appropriate . . . issued by Your Grand Inquisitor, I mean Holy Office, I mean Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As You know if You read conservative Catholic blogs as often as I force myself to (and You help You if You do), there is great joy in the heaven of the orthodox over the announcement that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has been tried and found guilty of being uppity women, who now must be brought into line by a suitable cadre of anointed men. The glee of the righteous is profound, and typified by comments like this one at Catholic Answers Forums:

They just need to clean out that rats nest of liberal nuns. Disorganize ’em. Break ’em up. Do a Bishop Bruskewitz on ’em. Give ’em 30 days to disassociate themselves from the heterodox organizations, or get excommunicated. [Sic. And not satire.]

Even my friend The Hermit, the gentlest man in orthodoxy, told me he thought it might be best if the Church just let these older communities, which had outlived their usefulness long ago–obvious from the fact that they’re no longer attracting vocations–die of natural causes. For which statement (You know) I called him callous. And that (You know) is both untrue and unkind, but it’s the least unkind thing I want to say right now, believe me. I hope You forgive me, and that you move him to forgive me, too.
I am taking this all entirely too personally. I understand, swear to You, that the religious women involved in the LCWR are smart, competent, and passionate in their commitment to their call from You as they understand it–all those things being, alas, part of the problem, I guess–and that they will put on their big girl panties and rise to this occasion with no need for agita from me.
But Lord, You know better than anyone the buttons this pushes. You know that it was the uppity women of the Immaculate Heart who turned this cradle Catholic into a true believer, who spoke with Your prophetic voice the invitation to be a woman of faith and showed me what that meant. You know how much of my life has been shaped and nourished and inspired by religious women from many other active communities who lived in joy the full, limitless mystery of service. Yes, they questioned. Yes, they bucked authority. Yes, they were loud and unconventional and impossible to put back into the Bells of St Mary’s nun doll boxes.
You were there with the IHMs when they made the only choice the Archdiocese of Los Angeles would allow them. They gave up their canonical status, their livelihood, their homes for the sake of their charism–educating young women to be everything You call them to be. And You will be with the congregations of the LCWR as they make whatever choices they are allowed to make. I know that.
But I have to wonder, and ask, uppity woman that I am, whether this is really Your will, especially in the way it is being carried out. Is it really heresy to question the role of women in the Church? Are You mightily offended by the mere mention of some issues, like the possibility that women might lead, or that gay people might not be disordered? Do You really think it’s possible to put too much emphasis on social justice? (And if so, how much is too much?) Is feminism a deadly sin? Would You be happiest, Lord, if there were no women in Your Church at all, save those who were walled away in prayer, those who bore children, those who ironed altar linens, those who covered their heads and were silent in the assembly? Because I have been going around at great risk to my reputation, frail as it is, for sanity, insisting that You would not.
Since I came back to the Church and made my Profession of Faith I have worked hard every day to give assent of intellect and will to what the Church teaches–though most days, I gotta tell You, it’s like trying to play the Minuet in G using the Think System, and the results are just as discordant. I have been saying, in public places, that Your Church has not declared war on women, and I really want to believe that. Can You work with me a little here?
Or are my liberal friends right? Am I kidding myself? Is reverting to today’s Catholicism, for a woman whose faith is rooted in the Second Vatican Council, like going back to an abusive spouse or staying on the plantation after emancipation? Is it a physical and psychological and spiritual impossibility? Should I just die of natural causes and get out of the way?
That’s where the sympathy for the members of the Society of St Pius X comes in. I’m sure they must be asking some of the same questions from a (very, very) opposite perspective. Because the great irony–oh, that sense of humor of Yours–is that on the same day the Inquisition comes down on the LCWR, we get word that Rome just might finally be ready to welcome back into communion the SSPX. What’s being nosed about is the offer of a special ordinariate that would preserve the traditionalists’ right to celebrate pre-Vatican II liturgies. Whether the SSPX would be asked to yield on its refusal to acknowledge the value of religious freedom and other “Modernist heresies”–not to mention tone down the anti-Semitism of its rhetoric–and whether it would do so if asked, only You know. So here we have two extremes in the news–one in trouble for refusing to honor the spirit of Vatican II, the other for carrying it out too zealously.
My sympathy is reluctant, however, not just because I find the SSPX’s doctrinal positions distasteful (I don’t give a rip about their liturgical traditionalism; I think diversity in that area is a gift to the Church, not a problem), but because I think there’s something not quite kosher about the different way the two groups are being handled. The SSPX is frankly schismatic, having openly defied Church authority and even declaring that that authority has no authority, yet every effort has been made, for decades, to patiently and charitably coax the Society back into the fold. All communications have been privileged, and no texts released. On the other hand, the LCWR has never engaged in formal schism, yet the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith publishes 8 pages of accusations of heresy and supersedes canon law by subjecting the decisions of duly elected superiors to review by bishops. Nobody’s talking about a special ordinariate for the uppity women. Youdammit, that sure seems like gender bias to me.
Lord, You know me. I’m not defending heresy, no matter what gender commits it. I don’t begrudge the new traditional women’s religious congregations their (relative) booming growth; I recognize the appeal of the cloistered life of prayer. (Stop laughing, Lord.) And in spite of the very real angst this day has brought, I’m (probably) not going to rerevert. Instead I am going to keep praying for Your comforting, enlightening, unifying, totally unconventional and out-of-any-box-whatsoever Spirit to come rest upon and uphold and guide the women of the LCWR, the SSPX, the bishops and others involved in various inquests and oversights and negotiations, the Grand Inquisitor, and Your whole Church, so that Your will might be accomplished with the least amount of crap possible.
And I am going to pray, You help me, to be able to wake up just one morning and not wonder if I’m nuts to be Catholic. Listening hard for Your answers, Lord, and trying not to script them for You. Amen.
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