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Sunday, 13 September 2009

No one from the Vatican ever drops in at my house....

This is a good thing, because I am a slob.
(The Pope, in particular, would have difficulty find a place to sit down where his having done so would not afterwards be utterly obvious, white cassocks show the dust so...)

But the fact remains, I am a practicing, registered Catholic, trying to lead a holy life and find my way home to heaven -- yet never once has anyone from the Roman curia threatened me with a visitation.
Or told me, none too subtly, that they were "checking in" on me to "see how you're doing."

And I've missed Mass. And published, (IRL, not on a blog,) harangues about Church spokesmen. And generally been less than saintly.

So why is Sr Schneiders expecting unwelcome houseguests?

Is it, because, O horrors! she's a"progressive" and so it's a witch-hunt?

But Teddy Kennedy was a progressive, and I don't think any Roman congregation ever sent a delegation to check up on him.

Oh, but perhaps that's because he was a man, so their targeting you is some kind of paternalism? so, we should assume that the meanies at the Vatican sent investigators after Rosemary Radford Ruether?

Hmmm...hy would anyone think that you were subject to some authority? and might even welcome interest from them?
Can you think of any reason for that Sr. Scneiders? some idea why anyone might think that he or she had a claim on you friendship? and maybe even on your obedience?

And one last question, that opinion piece in the NCR? You said:
Liturgy is increasingly oppressive when it is not completely unavailable.
What did you mean by that?

One of your commentators had an intriguing response:
one question has arisen repeatedly, in various forms, and been “answered,” sometimes quite dogmatically, by people who have no lived experience of or academic competence in regard to Religious Life. Since the question is important, misinformation is not helpful to Religious themselves or to their many concerned lay friends, colleagues, and associates. The substance of the question is “What is ‘apostolic Religious Life’?”

This assumes and presumes much. First it assumes much about the interlocutors. A surprising number of us have been in, or in close proximity to, religious life. Many of us have looked at it very carefully indeed at times of discerning our own vocations.

Second, it presumes that the laity has little or no business commenting upon what forms of institutionalized religious life should be promoted or even tolerated by the Church.

I suspect that Sister Sandra would not minimize the role of non-priestly opinion were the matter under discussion, for example, the ordination of women.

Living situations in a first world urban culture are not conducive to flexible and mobile community in mission nor supportive of shared spirituality. Liturgy is increasingly oppressive when it is not completely unavailable.

I find the reference to Liturgy as unavailable somewhat odd; the active laity, by and large, seem to manage it. Indeed, in my living area had I the inclination to do so I could without major inconvenience attend Liturgy on a daily basis prior to arriving at my (very secular) place of employment.

But overall what distresses me about Sister Sandra's essay is the suggestion that practices such as living in community and the observation of at least an abbreviated version of the Divine Office to be irrelevant.

With regard to the Hours, the suggestion that it and a personal spirituality and prayer life are somehow mutually exclusive is incorrect; one is not a substitute for the other. St. Benedict knew that well.

Similarly the role of community life ought not to be minimized. Sr. Sandra, however, seems to regard it, and the aspects inherent to same (i.e., shared preparation and clean-up of meals) as mere inconveniences. I would suggest though, that effective daily community life, in both the sacred and the mundane is a significant anodyne to the challenges that celibacy brings.

To some extent it would seem a chicken-and-egg scenario. Religious sisters (and brothers) today have made decisions to pursue less collective or consolidated and more individualistic missions which are not nearly so conducive to community life and prayer as were more cohesive missions such as the staffing of a school adjacent to an on-site community dwelling or convent.

While the popular culture has become a more "do your own thing" proposition, so has religious life. Sister Sandra would, from the tone of her essay, have us believe that that is a good thing.

It is not, however, without its costs. I believe that we should not be so quick to trivialize what has been lost. This is especially so in light of the difficulty religious congregations have had in attracting and retaining young talent. Is it possible that such talent was nurtured by the very community life which no longer exists?

It should be noted that probably a majority of the now-aging religious who've stuck around to "do their own thing" and who no longer live and pray in community or participate in any sort of regularized regimens are old enough to have had a decade or more of "formation" in which they did just that, participating in a shared mission to boot.

It is often noted how many religious have "left" the orders and gone out into the secular world as laity, to marry and to raise families. It would appear that many who have "stayed" have really "left" insofar as they have made decisions (and been allowed to make decisions) which have in essence taken them out of the day-to-day life in their communities.

Perhaps it isn't quite so trendy these days to subordinate ones own inclinations and ambitions for a shared purpose. To, for example, join a religious order whose mission is to staff K through 12 schools and to be content with 50 or so years of doing just that, with perhaps a graduate degree or two to enhance one's abilities to do same along the way, at a time not of one's own choosing but which corresponds to community needs.

Perhaps, too, it is not trendy to say "gee, that job in Podunk looks like it would be perfect for me, but there is no community within my order there to act as a home base, and I'm committed to life in community so I can't just take the job because I feel like doing so."

When there is little to distinguish one's life as a sister or brother from that of a single person living a life of professional service to the World, one begins to wonder what the difference really is. Are religious orders to be nothing more than glorified "Support Groups" with whom one meets periodically? Or perhaps a bit of a financial back-stop such that if one gets cross-wise with the local bishop and gets fired over a matter of conscience, one doesn't end up homeless and without health insurance (no small matter, in today's climate!)?

These aren't new questions. But they are hard ones, and serious ones.

Perhaps the "new" model of religious life is working for Sr. Sandra and her fellows.

Perhaps there really is no alternative, there not being very much left of "conventional" religious community life unless one wants to go the ultra-orthodox route.

In any case, it's what we've got, as a product of decisions which were made by religious and to some extent for religious over the the past several decades.

But a number of commentators, "qualified" according to Sr. Sandra's standards or not, still question whether the signs point to the new status quo being an improvement over the old one, and whether much of the good was tossed out with the bad along the way.

Frankly, I am not sure what the visitation is about, or if there is any reason those who don't want to be visited can't simply say, "no."
What would the consequences be for them?
What is the hold on them that the congregation that has ordered the visitations (there are 2, are there not, in the works?) has?

And this is a perfectly sincere question -- how is the life reduces to the essentials Sr Schneiders describes different from that of any single, chaste Catholic, with a life dedicated to service?

What does "community" mean to them, and what prevents them doing as they please?

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