with restless hearts

reflections, critiques, comments, and questions of a 20-something catholic in pursuit of truth and justice in a dualistic world


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more thoughts on the nun-vatican showdown

Not too long ago I wrote a brief post about the purported nun-vatican standoff in the immediate aftermath of Cardinal Levada’s NCR interview. Other than throwing in my two cents that our tendency to cast “sides” in this issue will only prove damaging in the long-run, I was mostly silent on my own thoughts on the matter.

As many others have already observed, and even Levada has urged people to remember, the Church moves slow. Like took 1900 years to infallibly proclaim teachings the Church had always held to be true slow. So it is no surprise that the media (both ecclesial and secular) coverage of the tensions, conflict, loving challenge, confrontation, full-on attack, or whatever you want to call it between the CDF and LCWR leadership has come in an ebb-and-flow manner. Over the past few days, however, it seems that we’re back in a rush of coverage, assumptions, and less-than-charitable chiming in from viewers at home. And, yesterday, I came upon a blog post that hit so wonderfully to the heart of the matter that it made me want to affirm her conclusions and throw in my own voice as well.

The post comes from Sr. Susan, a sister of St. Joseph of Peace, who has a fabulous and comprehensive blog, Musings of a Discerning Woman, that captures her journey from maybe-discerner, through the trying novitiate years, and now as a temporary professed. The whole post can be found here, but I’ll quote some of the highlights as I meander my way to a point.

To provide some background, Sr. Susan’s community is a part of the majority that belong to the LCWR, she is considered a young religious (aka under 40), and has a great investment in thinking about what it means to be a new sister in aging communities with so much experience and wisdom. So if anyone should have a stake in the current Vatican-LCWR talks, and if anyone has a right to sound off about their frustration and confusion in the matter, it would be her. What I love and respect about Sr. Susan, though, is that in a move that speaks to her true character and love of her vocation, she has remained largely silent on the matter. As she reminds readers,

In my world of course, one of the biggest happenings of late has been the recent hullabaloo between the men who make up the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and the women called to leadership of religious communities like my own. Regular readers of the blog will know that I’ve not written much here about that situation here, mostly because I want to respect the process and place my trust in our leadership and the Holy Spirit.

Read that last part again. It’s beautiful – I want to respect the process and place my trust in our leadership and the Holy Spirit. And I think she hits it right on the head.

No matter which way you try to spin it, this is a painful process. Even without all of the media hype, twitter name-calling, and uninformed op-eds that have appeared in its wake.

It’s painful for the bishops and Vatican officials because the general assumption seems to be that their primary motivation is anything but love and genuine pastoral concern. At best, they seem to be accused of clinging to out-dated tradition and set of expectations for women; at worst, they are misogynistic, anti-poor, abortion-obsessed, controlling, and threatened male hierarchy trying to hold onto whatever power they may have left.

It’s painful for the LCWR communities because they have been homogenized, villianized, victimized, manipulated, misunderstood, misquoted, and politicized. It’s painful because it’s hard to not feel personally attacked and under-appreciated when the constitutions by which you live your life and pledge your whole self are being questioned and picked apart. And it’s painful because all of this has been played out on a national stage, making them symbols of an ecclesial revolution that I would venture to say most are not interested in fighting.

Finally, it’s painful for onlookers, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, because we’ve allowed this issue to bring out the worst in us. No matter where we find ourselves on the spectrum of support, I think it’s fair to say that most of us have made comments (or read and condone online comments) that do no honor to Christ by disrespecting his brides. This was called out for what is beautifully in a recent Facebook post on Fr. James Martin’s public figure page (I suppose I don’t know for sure if this is associated with him or not, but it was brilliant nonetheless).

Earlier I posted a profile about Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, the current president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  David Gibson’s article for Religion News Service focused on her work for the Church, and with the poor, in Central America over the last 30 years, often in situations of great danger.  How is it possible that, within a few minutes, I had to delete so many ad hominem comments about Sister Pat, which critiqued her for not being a “good Catholic”?   Have people no sense of perspective any longer?  If not, I have an idea: If you’d like to criticize Sister Pat for not being a good Catholic, as some did, then I would suggest that you do the following: First, spend some time working with the poor in San Antonio. Then, spend six years working with the poor in Chile during an oppressive and violent political regime. You’ll be working in a Catholic parish in a small town in the desert, by the way.  Next, move to El Salvador, where you will be in danger of being killed for working for the Catholic Church. That is, put your life on the line every single day for Jesus Christ and for the Catholic Church.  At one point during your almost twenty years there, work in a refugee camp, run by the church, that is the target of military raids.  Do all of this, by the way, while living under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; living far from your home country; and having nothing to call your own. Then feel free to come back and post a comment on this Facebook page about what a bad Catholic she is.

Ok, so it definitely can be read with some passive-aggressive undertones, but it gets to the point. And at the end of the day, I think it’s this: the LCWR is and remains a canonical body of the Church, and inasmuch, it is absolutely acceptable that it’s teachings, publications, governing statutes, formation statutes, and public image be examined and adjusted if necessary. In fact, it is the bishops’ vocations and pastoral duties to do so. What is not acceptable, is when we make the leap from questionable teaching to questionable people. Everyone is prone to error, misjudgment, and sin. The LCWR leadership is no exception, but neither are the men who make up the CDF, the CMSWR leadership, or any of us. The Church doesn’t ask us to forget our conscious and automatically submit to her teachings. No, what she asks us to do requires more simplicity, humility, and trust. When we don’t agree or don’t understand, she simply tells us, that’s ok. You still belong. Just keep learning, keep searching, and keeping opening yourself to my Truth. (See here for an interesting article on “legitimate diversity of opinion.”)

Yes, there are times that the LCWR has, in my opinion, publically strayed from official Church teaching, and as a body that carries the heavy burden of publically representing the Church to others and the world, that’s a problem that should, and is hopefully being corrected. But while the missteps are so small, they are unfortunately being judged by them. But it’s what these women are doing right that should be the real story here!

As Sr. Susan puts it,

Over the past 40 years, many women religious have lived  and ministered with people on the margins of society, whether that is with AIDS patients or homeless urban Native Americans, with children with multiple disabilities or families without health insurance. We have a saying in our community that wherever one of our Sisters is, we are all there.  So while I have not had these ministry experiences, my Sisters have, and this in turn has informed our shared experience of life as followers of Jesus who pay special attention to the “little ones.”

Yes. We can talk all day about what makes up the “essentials” of religious life – habits, type of dwelling, size of community, horarium, daily mass, line of work, you name it. But the problem comes in as soon as we start delegitimizing someone else’s expression of it. Oh, there are some nonnegotiables – Catholic Religious Life implies communion with the Catholic Church and then there are the evangelical counsels – but beyond that, “authentic” religious life can be open to individualized expression.

And located within this, I would argue, is the real tension of what’s going on, and I would put it this way: The Vatican should rightly facilitate the alignment of the essentials of religious life. Women religious should rightly protect their communities’ unique charisms and expressions of religious life. Some within the Vatican hierarchy are redefining the essentials to include these individual expressions and are thus overstepping bounds of control. Some within LCWR religious communities are redefining individual expressions to include the essentials and are thus interpret this through a lens of violence, and the media’s leaving no room for anything but the extreme.

Both are off the mark, but both speak to very real pain and confusion. So what’s the answer? I would say that as a starting point, all parties involved should define the terms, work towards establishing a common language, and stop with the polarizations. But even as I say that, I have to believe that those truly invested and at the center of this issue are already doing just that. So maybe it’s just something the rest of us need to get on board with too?

Obviously, this is a difficult issue to discuss and write about. As a lay woman, I know that my concern and investment only goes so far, but as someone who has discerned Religious Life and has spent a great deal of time breaking down stereotypes and building relationships with women religious of all flavors, this is something that matters deeply to me. I’d like to close with Sr. Susan’s closing thoughts and call to prayer:

Please join me in praying for our Church, for the Bishops appointed by Rome to engage with LCWR, for the women in leadership who will meet in St Louis next week, and for all of God’s people.  That we may learn to follow Jesus with integrity and love, open to the call and presence of the Holy Spirit, living the good news in service of God and all of God’s people, especially the most vulnerable.

Amen, Sister, Amen!


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oh madonnas, memorare: remembering those lost to shootings and violence

Last night’s shooting at the Batman movie premiere was certainly a tragedy, and my heart and prayers go out to all of the families, community members, and others affected by it. As the current count stands, 12 people lost their lives in one of the most unthinkable manners last night. As I made the commute to work this morning, the radio was full of messages of consolation and hope, and truly, the outpouring of charity and empathy from nation-wide onlookers has been heartening.

Since the radio was the first mention I had heard of this story, as soon as I had access to a computer, I went to the Chicago Tribune website in the hope of learning more details. Sure enough, the main headline of the day was on the shooting. But then, just as I was about to click on the story, another, much smaller headline caught my eye: “Two sixteen-year-olds dead, 4 wounded in South Side Shootings.”

And there it was, two more kids, two more of my community’s kids gone overnight. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that it feels like every single morning that I check the Tribune only to find more shootings, more deaths, and tragically, it’s almost always kids or young adults.

And I’m sick of it. I’m sick of my heart breaking for the friends and families who lost a loved one. I’m sick of frantically trying to research to see if the victim was a family member of one of the kids with whom I work. I’m sick of being tempted by the media to think of these losses, these lives simply as another number adding to the staggering statistics. And if I – privileged, employed, white, insured, educated, well-fed, mobile I – feel these losses so acutely, I cannot imagine what it must be like for the mothers, grandmothers, younger brothers and sisters, fathers, cousins, friends, teachers who know the faces and the stories behind the numbers.

Over a March weekend not too long ago, a deadly weekend left 10 killed and 40 wounded. Again, I know the circumstances are extremely different, but compare that last night’s numbers. Aside from a few newspaper articles, this was considered just another weekend. Another sobering statistic to throw out there – since September 2008, over 300 children (18 and under) and over 600 youth (under 26) in Chicago alone. I believe with my whole heart that this is a scandal.

In the words of the wonderful Urban Dolorosa ministry,

This devastating loss is unacceptable. Almost all of these children are African-American or Hispanic. They are from our poorest neighborhoods. They live and die in fear, and yet because they are poor, because they have no voice, they are easily forgotten. This is inexcusable.

I want to be very clear here; I absolutely think that the Denver story is worthy of the media attention and general public outcry, and what I say next is not intended to call into question if the victim’s stories should be told on a national platform. Of course they should, every human life is precious, endowed with unfathomable dignities, and it is right that we publicly honor that dignity when possible. And I also understand that a mass shooting is very different from the recent Chicago shooting to which I am referring. But still, I have to ask, where is the public outcry for these children?

Urban Dolorosa, the ministry I quoted above, is dedicated to the radical mission of reclaiming urban childhood. In November of 2011, they called for a city-wide pilgrimage in honor of children killed by violence. The tagline was, “Five Churches in Five Neighborhoods; One Sorrowing City.” I was privileged enough to attend one of the nightly vigils, and I found it to be one of the most heartbreaking and eye-opening events of my life.

One of the most powerful pieces of the night, at least for me personally, was a reinterpreted Stabat Mater, in which the congregation intimately called upon the intercession and pity of Rachel and Mary. The lines still haunt me with their beauty and vulnerability.

Oh Madonnas, Memorare!
Mary too, once lost a Son.

It’s impossible to explain how absolutely humbling it was to stand shoulder to shoulder with mothers who had buried their children within the past year as those lines were sung.

And now, with the tragic violence of last night, new sorrowful mothers have been created, new disconsolate voices to add their cries and prayers to the mourning of Mary and Rachel. And so this haunting hymn now too rightfully belongs to them.

A voice is heard lamenting, weeping:
Bitter, angry, unrelenting.
Rachel – yet a thousand Rachels –
Weeping for their children,
Refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.

As I’ve already stated, my deepest prayers go out to those who lost loved ones last night; in the Denver-area, and in my own backyard. I praise everyone for taking last night’s tragedy so personally, for seeking out the stories of lives cut short and for striving to comfort the suffering. I also challenge everyone to open their eyes and their hearts to the other stories of violence and loss – to pray with just as much fervor for those whose names and faces we know and for those who only appear in our morning paper under the vaguest of terms. Every life is precious; every life has value; every life deserves to remembered, mourned.

I would like to close with the words of another hymn used in the peace and prayer vigils of Urban Dolorosa, this one like a mantra, sung over and over again. Here, I offer it as equal parts consolation and summons.

Pour out your heart like water
For the lives of your children.
Let justice roll down like waters
Righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.


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vocation and the call to discernment

Recently, I attended a Theology on Tap entitled “God’s Call and Our Response,” a fairly standard title on a fairly standard topic. Since one of the ways that I tend to make important decisions in life is to gather as much information as possible, I’ve sought out these discernment/vocation talks and workshops for a number of years. So when I decided to attend this particular Theology on Tap, I wasn’t expecting to hear anything that I hadn’t already heard before or knew, at least in theory if not in practice. In fact, to be perfectly blunt, I only went because of the free food, it was perfectly timed with when I left work, and the lure of meeting other young Catholics in a giant city.

Another important thing to know about me – I really do love learning and lectures, but I can also be a grade A intellectual snob. If I’ve decided that I already know something inside and out, or if the presenter approaches something from an angle that I think less profound than my own, I have a tendency to disengage and only spot the flaws in whatever was being said. So, unfortunately, that was more or less the attitude with which I walked into the talk. However, despite my less than sincere motives and acute case of theological pride, God used the occasion both to humble me (trust me, this is almost always needed) and to introduce to me a new concept in vocational discernment.

Towards the end of the evening, the presenter challenged us to apply what she had been talking about up to that point (and this is where the standard discernment enters in) to thinking about the “big” life vocations. She used the image of a tree – God the Father as the roots, Christ, the Word of God, as the trunk, and the Holy Spirit as the lifeblood pumping within it and surging out to its branches, which were: Ordained Priesthood, Committed Single, Vowed Religious, Vowed Marriage, and Transitional Discernment Period*.

It’s that last one that stopped me right in my up-until-that-point wandering intellectual tracks. Transitional Discernment Period. As soon as that was on the table, something within me stirred and I could feel the truth that the label expressed speak to something deep within my heart, and I thought, yup, that’s me.

To flesh out the meaning a little, the Transitional Discernment Period speaks to that stage in many young adults’ lives, sometimes lasting up to ten or twelve years, in which we find ourselves in a state of near perpetual transition coupled with dynamic discernment. For most of us, in out twenties, nearly ever major life move we make is an impermanent one. College provides semi-stability for four years, but then what? We can do service programs that last for a year, but then what? We finally move out of living with our parents, but then what? We can go onto graduate school for one, two years, but then what? We can go for that entry-level job right out of school, but we know that in a few short years we’ll be ready to move on, and then what?

And for many practicing Catholics, these life transitions are accompanied with deeper, nagging questions – shall we marry? Am I called to the priesthood? How do I align my sexual orientation with the concept of vocation? Am I ready to be a parent? Do I have a vocation to religious life? Am I just waiting for my vocation to come along or am I called to committed single life?

The beauty of the Transitional Discernment Period is that it says to all of these competing worries, desires, and life changes – it’s ok. This is where you should be. These questions are ok.

Personally, I sometimes struggle with allowing the big vocational calls of tomorrow to cause me to neglect the calls and gifts of today. As someone who thrives off of arriving at the “correct answer,” it’s a real dying to self just to get to that point where I can throw my hands in the air and say with conviction, God, I trust in you. It’s not easy for me to admit that I have no idea where I’m going in life, that after years of trying to engage in text-book, picture-perfect discernment, I still feel drawn toward both marriage and religious life. And then there’s that doubting voice that always seems to whisper, what if it never happens? What if it’s single life?

I’m sure that not everyone will think the concept of a Transitional Discernment Period as profound and novel and true as I do, but I know that for me, at that presentation, it was God’s way of speaking to me and answering some of the doubts and questions of my heart. I could almost hear him say to me, stop worrying. This is where I want you, this is where you are called to be. Think of this time of living in transition with competing desires as your vocation right now. Trust me and wait. It’s not time yet. Embrace the gifts and the confusion of the present, and use them to give me glory.

I don’t think that I can fully express how much of a vocational break through the Transitional Discernment Period was and continues to be for me. And I thank and praise God for revealing this to me on a night that I had decided that I already knew everything.

*I did a Google search for the phrase Transitional Discernment Period and was not able to come up with anything, so I want to be sure to give credit to the presenter of the night, Sr. Barbara Ann Smelko SC. You can learn more about Sr. Barbara and the Sisters of Charity here.


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hollywood, trafficking, and the loss of our girls

One of the social justice issues that I am most passionate about is that of domestic human trafficking and child trafficking in particular. This week saw the publication of a wonderful if not sobering article on the role of the media in child trafficking. The article, written by a survivor of child sex trafficking can be found here.

Really?

In it, the author argues that child trafficking (she deals with girls although trafficking certainly affects boys too) is in some ways legitimized, or at the very least, enabled by the media and popular culture’s portrayal of women. We all know the story – the media’s ideal of feminine beauty is becoming more and more youthful and young girls are being more pressured than ever to buy into their roles as sexualized, and therefore allegedly empowered, objects of desire.

Now, this is definitely written from the perspective of one woman’s experience of story, and the Hollywood enticement strategy is one that is only attempted on (and works on) certain youth populations. Despite this minor caveat, though, this short piece powerful truths, and the one that grabbed me the most was this:

 A sex trafficker once said that he didn’t have to groom his victims because society did that for him.  I can personally attest to this.

I harbor no illusions that I am by any means an expert in child trafficking, at least not yet anyway, but I have had experiences that have brought me face-to-face with it’s ugly reality. And for what it’s worth, and for what my experience has taught me, I can personally attest to the above statement as well.

So what’s the answer to all of this? Surely we can all agree that child sex trafficking is debasing, disgusting, and just all around appalling, but agreeing with something and actually doing something are two totally different things. As a society, are we willing to part with our night clubs, bars, and strip clubs that serve as a front for trafficking and forced prostitution? Are we really willing to boycott the movies, television shows, and magazines that invite us to imagine young women and girls as objects of self-gratification rather than as dignified daughters of God?

I think that the answer, at least as it stands now, is not yet. But I honestly believe that this because people today are not as educated about this issue as they should be. How can we even talk about taking away women’s “right” to earn money by selling their bodies and men’s “right” to participate if no one is talking about the fact that legitimate strip clubs in this country are few in number and that most are a front for trafficking?

Another, equally frustrating road-block to real conversation and change that I repeatedly encounter is the false notion that trafficking affects immigrants and foreign women, not americans. Well news flash, trafficking is in the United States, in your city, in your schools, quite possibly in your neighborhoods. Young girls are approached by pimps and traffickers at malls, at the movies,on their commutes home from school. This is not just some other country’s problem. This is our problem. These are our girls.

I could go on about this for hours, but I also understand that if I want to contribute constructively to this budding conversation, I need to do more research and be able to back up my claims. So I will, and I’ll write about this more in the future. In the meantime, though, I just want to leave with a word of thanks to those who are beginning to push this issue into the main sphere of ethical journalism and political discussion.