Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Prophetic Mission of the Religious Sisters

this doesn't quite speak to me, or if it does,
I don't think the message is orthodox and
it should be looked into by the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith
I was preparing a lecture on monasticism this past weekend and I came upon this quote from Thomas Merton
Special Emphasis is put on the mystique of martyrdom—the consummation of the Christian’s consecration of himself to Christ in baptism   Tertulian writes: “A prison provides a Christian with the same advantages that a desert gives to a prophet.”  This is interesting,  Not only are the Desert Fathers heirs to the vocation of the martyrs, but the martyrs are heirs of those pre-desert Fathers, the prophets   
  Thomas Merton, Cassian and the Fathers: Initiation into the Monastic Tradtion, edited by Patrick F. O’Connell, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo  2005.  p. 11.
OK, this I recognize
seems to me to be what
our faith is about.
Merton demonstrates, citing Tertullian, a connection here between monasticism (and by extension, religious life) and prophetic charism.  Monasticism had its origins, in part, in the desire of men and women to give their lives totally to God in the age where the option of martyrdom was fast closing because the persecution of the Roman Empire was drawing to a close.  The word “martyr” comes from the Greek μάρτυς, a witness.  Prophet comes from the Greek προφήτης—which means someone who speaks up on behalf of, testifies for, another.  Tertullian makes a link between prophets and martyrs.  That link passed to the desert monks.  Men and women whose passion of faith led them to want to surrender their lives totally to God, turned to the ascetical life in the desert as hermits or monks.  Origen draws the connections between the martyrs and the desert ascetics when he interprets the parable of the sower and the seed (Matthew 13:1-23).  Origen says that those who bear increase a hundred fold are the martyrs.  Those who bear increase sixty-fold are the ascetics (those men and women who have opted for lives of celibacy and prayer), and those who bear witnesses thirty-fold are the widows—who give themselves to prayer and good works. 
     The monastic life began as a witness by those committed Christians who understood that the society around them with all its distractions and pleasures was no place for the heart that seeks God and his kingdom.   They desired a purity of heart that would empower them to focus on God and God alone.  Their function within the larger Church was to witness, to keep alive the testimony, that God demands our all.   It was not, as it was with the gnostics, a rejection of the world as evil, but rather a witness to the Christian that there is a Reality beyond this world and that our hearts, whatever our particular vocation is, must be set on that reality. The witness was a powerful one and this prophetic role within the community highly values, so much so that by the fifth century and afterwards, bishops were increasingly chosen from among the monks.  And the preaching of those monk bishops is remarkable.  Many of those readings from Chrysostom, Augustine, Jerome (who was not a bishop but very prominent, none the less), and other “Fathers” of the Church are still read today in the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours.  The monks, despite their withdrawal from society, were keenly aware of the concrete demands of the Gospel in the world.  They understood the fundamental connection between the Eucharist and an advocacy for the poor,  they realized the responsibilities that came with financial prosperity.  They understood that true religion demanded a distributive justice—that true faith demanded good stewardship of one’s material goods.  One of these Fathers, Saint Basil wrote:
The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the person who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the person who has none; the money which you hoard in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help."     
Chrysostom wrote
Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: "This is my body" is the same who said: "You saw me hungry and you gave me no food", and "Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me"... What good is it if the  Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger?  Start by satisfying his hunger nd then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well
     And there are people today in the Church that think that the Sisters are too involved in social justice? 
        Over a period of time, and especially with the Rule of Saint Benedict, monasticism became more formalized and new forms of religious life emerged—Canons Regular in the 11th and 12th centuries, mendicant friars in the 13th,  The  Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life in the 15th, the Apostolic Congregations such as the Society of Jesus, the Theatines, the Vincentians in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Similarly monastic institutions of women evolved as women affiliated themselves to the canons regular, the mendicants, and apostolic congregations. Charismatic women such as Mary Ward and Angela Merici established autonomous women’s communities not affiliated to men’s communities and with—for the time—the radical vision of educating women.  Vincent de Paul made a radical leap with his daughters of Charity who were very untraditional.  He instructed them
for a monastery, only the houses of the sick, for cell, a rented room, for chapel, the parish church, for cloister, the streets of the city, for enclosure, obedience, for grill, the fear of God, for veil, holy modesty.  
Perhaps among all the congregations of religious, the Daughters of Charity have been the most prophetic because of the heroic service they have given to the poor. 
      It is the role of religious in the Church to be prophetic—to speak up against the institutionalism, whether in the worlds of business, government, society, or even the world of the Church, that is contrary to the Gospel.  To do this authentically, religious need to reexamine the monastic roots which may not lay at the foundation of their particular institute but which do comprise the underpinning of religious life itself.  Religious must be contemplatives.  That does not mean they must be cloistered but it does mean that their hearts have to be set on God and on his Word. They must strive for that singular focus of the Kingdom of God. 
         And this is the irony of the present moment.  When Cardinal Burke parades around in his nine yards of scarlet silk topped by a fur wrap it is not God’s Kingdom that is being witnessed to.  When Cardinal Law, fleeing accountability in Boston for his role in cover-ups of criminal activity, enjoys the luxurious quarters that were his as Archpriest of Saint Mary Major, it is not God’s kingdom to which he was witnessing.  The rank and vicious ambition for which Archbishop Lori became known as aide-de-camp to the late Cardinal James Hickey of Washington is not witness to God’s Kingdom.  When Carl Anderson draws a million + a year from the Knights of Columbus while using Knights funds to accomplish political agendas both at home in the States and in the rats’ nest of the Roman Curia, it is not God’s kingdom he is witnessing to. 
         But the good Sisters.  I go to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, shelters for abused women and children, inner-city schools, day-care for the elderly, and I find the nuns, not the prelates.  Sadly, I don’t even find the priests, at least those with pontiff collars and silver cufflinks under their cassocks.  No, the religious are the prophetic voice—and that is their vocation.  There are those who want to silence that voice but the ladies have the credibility of living what they bear witness to.  Moreover it is their right, their responsibility, and their vocation to give witness. You go girls!

No comments:

Post a Comment