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.