Pope to Women Religious: What would the Church be Without You?

Pope to Women Religious: What would the Church be Without You? May 8, 2013

Our Church needs vocations. 

It needs men and women who will commit their lives to Jesus in the absolute and total way that taking vows implies. We need priests to bring us the sacraments. We also need sisters to go out in the world and bring the love of Christ to suffering people.

However, before anything else, these vowed ones of God must be true to Christ and to His Church. I want a priest who will show me the way to heaven. I know that there is only One Way and that Way is Jesus Christ. I want a priest who will teach me and lead me in the narrow way of salvation that Jesus shows us. That means I want a priest who is faithful to the Church.

I also see the crying need for sisters to bring Jesus to sin-sick people, the world over. These are just my personal thoughts — definitely not Church teaching — but I honestly think that the loving hand of one person, lifting up another in the name of Our Lord, is a very real and personal sacrament of grace. It is not the sacraments that flow through the apostolic succession and into us when we go to confession or partake of the Eucharist. It is, rather, a personal gift of love and care that is empowered by and grows from those sacraments; a grace that is transmitted by and through the sacraments and becomes itself a kind of sacramental gift.

When the devil comes at us, he most often walks in on two feet. When the Lord Jesus shelters and care for us, he most often reaches out to us through human hands.

Sisters offer gifts that are unique to them as women. Their fidelity down through the centuries is a testament to the way that Christ works in this world through women. Sisters have built hospitals, schools and other forces of civilization all over the world. They have taught and nurtured and cared for countless people who would have been closed off the witness to Christ of a man.

“What would the Church be without you?” Pope Francis asked 800 superiors of women’s orders from around the world today.

I can answer that question, at least partially. It would not be the universal Church that speaks for all humanity. Without women, the Church is a body, cut down the middle, half of itself cast aside. It cannot function, cannot live, like that. 

Pope Francis told the religious superiors that they need to ensure that the women in their orders “are educated in the doctrine of the Church, in love for the Church and in an ecclesial spirit.

“It is an absurd dichotomy to think one can live with Jesus, but without the Church, to follow Jesus outside the Church, to love Jesus and not the Church,” he said.

Here, from CNA, are quotes from the Holy Father’s speech:

In his talk to the women, Pope Francis said their vow of chastity expands their ability to give themselves to God and to others “with the tenderness, mercy and closeness of Christ.” 

However, “please, let it be a fruitful chastity, a chastity that generates sons and daughters in the church. The consecrated woman is a mother, must be a mother and not a spinster,” he said. While the sisters were laughing at his use of a very colloquial Italian word for “spinster” or “old maid,” he added: “Forgive me for speaking this way, but the motherhood of consecrated life, its fertility, is important.”

Pope Francis said that just as Mary could not be understood without recognizing her role as being Jesus’ mother, the church cannot be understood without recognizing its role as being the mother of all believers. “And you are an icon of Mary and the church,” he said.


“We must never forget that true power, at any level, is service, which reached its highest point on the Cross. Think of how much damage to the people of God has been caused by men and women of the church who are careerists, climbers, who use the people, the church, their brothers and sisters — those they should be serving — as trampolines for their personal interests and ambitions,” he said. “This does great harm to the church.”


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5 responses to “Pope to Women Religious: What would the Church be Without You?”

  1. Quoting from the CNA article about Pope Francis’ speech:

    “‘The consecrated woman is a mother, must be a mother and not a spinster,” he said. While the sisters were laughing at his use of a very colloquial Italian word for “spinster” or “old maid,” he added: “Forgive me for speaking this way, but the motherhood of consecrated life, its fertility, is important.'”

    I know that some news outlets or commentators will make hay about the word “spinster,” (not a word I am comfortable with, BTW), but the real point of the pope’s comment is that religious sisters are mothers… they are mothers to the world. The celibacy of consecrated life is not infertile, it simply is fertile in a different way.

  2. As an atheist, I have to begrudgingly concede that Catholic women have been nothing but good for the world. Ok, there have been some nuns who have been somewhat (or some would say very) abusive to children in Catholic schools. But I can honestly say that even the most abusive nuns had our best interests in mind at all times. Their discipline seemed harsh at the time and would not be tolerated in this day and age. But it served its purpose and had nothing to do with my conversion to atheism. Some people have an ax to grind and put down nuns in general because of mistreatment at the hands of a few rare exceptions. But as a rule, women religious deserve our gratitude and respect for all they do in missions, schools, hospitals, etc.

  3. I do applaude these brave women too. I personally know nuns/sisters who have been disowned by their families for entering religious life. And these are Catholic families. Things are a lot harder today, than they used to be.

  4. Savvy, perhaps some of those Catholic families who were less than pleased that their child entered a religious life wished for grandchildren, and obviously that wouldn’t happen in that life. I can understand their unhappiness at an only child entering the religious life. However, disowning them for that choice is, IMO going overboard with their displeasure. I admire the women who enter that life, but it wouldn’t have worked for me—I wanted my own children entirely too much.

  5. You hit the nail on the head! Celebacy as pracitced by Catholic Religious and Priests is not the fruitless abandonment of the potential for a family but a calling and a choice to embrace a much larger family. A difficult concept to understand in a world that is increasingly self absorbed and losing it’s grip on commitment and fiedelity of any kind.