Daughters of the Sisters

from www.publicdomain.netby Angela Batie

I made the mistake of reading this article over breakfast and found myself crying in my shredded wheat. Other news articles have been circulating for months about the Vatican inquiry into American religious women (and others here have also referenced it), but this article struck a particular chord in me, and I have been unable to shake it.

The first half of the article generated feelings of anger, frustration, and pain at the betrayal that seems to be felt by some American women religious in reaction to this “visitation.” Regardless of the motivations of the Vatican in this inquiry, some sisters seem to be experiencing it as an attack on their work, their commitment to the Church, and their spirituality. Women whose deep commitment to the Gospel message and service to the people of God has long been inspiration for me now feel “bullied” by the very Church they serve. It feels wrong, and I sense my justice dander rising. It seems that, in response to the many fruits of the work of these women, the Church should be the voice saying “Well done, good and faithful servant.” It’s hard to comprehend what is happening.

Yet, as I stumbled through the article, my feelings moved from frustration and bewilderment to deep tenderness and compassion. As Sister X described the burial service of one of her sisters and a spirituality modeled on being disciples of Christ, I sensed a deep commitment to God, fortitude in the face of adversity, and a manifestation of community in its most beautiful form. The tears started flowing.

I noticed in myself a familiar nostalgia for a life I will not live. I’ve often thought that, born in another era, I would also be a sister. After all, I felt called to ministry and pursued studies in theology. What would have stopped me from becoming a sister, too? Sister X described how religious have had to beg the laity for financial support in their retirement, an image that causes me tremendous grief. Our Church should be supporting these women. Ideally, though, the younger sisters would also be providing in part for the older sisters, just as a child one day cares for her mother, returning the gift of life and nurture. I could have been the young sister to care for the others in the community. Who else of our generation would it be, if not those of us on this blog? But I’m not. It is not the call I’ve discerned, and it is not the call I’m answering. The call I answered, though, feels less bold than theirs. It feels secure and safe; it comes with a retirement account.

We young Catholic women are somehow the daughters of these sisters. We have benefited from an inheritance – a fortune, really – of wisdom, insight, role modeling, passionate commitment, and so much more. We’ve dandled on the knee of the sisters’ theological explorations, we’ve nursed at the breast of their social justice work, and we’ve napped in the comfort of their vibrant prayer lives. My measly check to the Retirement Fund for Religious seems woefully inadequate and my outpouring of gratitude is just a drop in a bucket. I’ve been the spendthrift of their riches, and I long – prodigal and distraught – to make my return. But how?

Angela Batie, the daughter of a former Benedictine sister, remembers that some of her most influential and formative teachers were sisters, from Sr. Jerry in fifth grade to her advisor in graduate school. Angela completed her Master of Divinity from Yale in 2007.

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3 Responses

  1. Angela, thanks so much for this. I’ve had the same thought/wonder before, myself: “I’ve often thought that, born in another era, I would also be a sister.”

    Kate

  2. Kate and Angela: So beautifully said! Perhaps one of the best results of the Vatican investigation is that each and every one of us take the time to affirm the women religious we know, and thank them for their dedication and influence, and pray for them during this crazy witchhunt.

    This is the year of the priest……….Perhaps we should support an inquiry elsewhere! Peace. Mary

  3. Angela,

    Thanks for posting. I want to say more about this so this is less of a comment and more of a tangential continuation on some similar themes.

    The story of Sister X fueled a personal frustration that Catholic woman still cannot be ordained. And that the vows they take and the immense services they offer are not compensated in the same way as the male clergy. Though the article did not focus specifically on ordination it still offered some very blatant examples of sexist behaviors, which might lessen if Catholic woman had the option of also being priests.

    It’s clear to me that no honest discussion about the Catholic Church can continue to ignore and/or dismiss issues related to gender inequalities. Though Catholic women are able to receive many of the same sacraments as Catholic men to insure that each grows in love and faith during her or his formative years, suddenly, if those same females want to receive Holy Orders her chromosomes and genitalia dictate that she is not worthy. The Church has decided that only a man is qualified to receive that sacrament.

    I wonder how much longer it will take before the hierarchy of ordained male clergy, who claim to have the only direct line to God’s ears, are finally able to widen their range of reception? When it comes to interpreting or creating church policies, when will they pick up the signal that a woman hears when God specifically calls her to receive Holy Orders? In the end it’s not only oppressive and discriminatory but arrogant and just because the static of sexism has made some of these men deaf, it still doesn’t make them right.

    As for congregations how much is lost when members, who don’t want to be hypocrites, leave the church because they have different thoughts about inclusion, equality, and free will? And since those ideas and concerns were not open for discussion in the larger Church I could not continue to be involved in the practices of the Catholic faith because I supported so many causes that were deemed sinful.

    First and foremost, I believe that inside each of us is a light flickering like the eternal flame from a sanctuary lamp. Can we bravely move toward it as if it were God’s grace glowing animate in our own jubilant and complicated bodies? Can we then use it as a way for us to call one another out from the shadows and join together to illuminate the powers that be? Not just for women and nuns but for all Catholics who claim to believe in equality and justice.

    Peace,
    Dianne

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