Those Who Serve
Religious You Will Always Have With You, by Richard Rohr, O.F.M., (10/16) was one of the finest and most thoughtprovoking articles I have read on the subject of religious life in today’s world. The author has shown how religious life can be and often is an initiation to a fuller Christian life, which may well be lived outside the convent or monastery.
When I go to Pax Christi meetings and others, in which I find many dedicated persons trying to live a life according to the Gospels, I am not surprised to find that a large number of them are former religious. Each had his or her own reason for leaving, but the reason was rarely that they wanted a more comfortable and less demanding life. On the contrary, they have often chosen to live a difficult life of service.
But I also believe that the loss of members in religious life as well as the opening of opportunities to do the work formerly done by religious is the nudging of the Spirit. The old elitist concept of the called can now be changed to a call to all of us to be a part of the only kind of elite that Jesus spoke about, those who serve others.
I always find the insights of Richard Rohr, O.F.M., excellent. Religious You Will Always Have With You (10/16) is no exception. I learned much from his well-articulated perspectives and resonated with some of them. I disagree, however, with one of his observationsor at least feel I should say that his experience has not been mine.
He states that he has met and known a great many religious who...in the second half of life grew bored, lazy and largely self-absorbed. This has not been my experience. Perhaps I am simply unable to follow Robert Burns’s advice to see ourselves as others see us, but I think not.
For almost 25 years I was missioned in Pine Ridge, S.D., then in Cameroon, Africa, at a distance from most of the sisters of my province, whom I would encounter only every few years. My first reaction (unspoken, to be sure) was usually My, how she has aged! But I invariably sensed another reality: a spiritual deepening, a vibrant awareness in each onean awareness of God in our world and in others. These infrequent visits gave me a privileged position to see these sisters in a new light. In speaking with them and observing them at greater length, I never found them bored, lazy or largely self-absorbed. This has continued to be true.
All of us are aging, of course, so some are less active than previously. Some are infirm and visibly diminishedphysically but not spiritually. They are alive with a quiet passion, encountering God in others, bringing God to the needs of our world. These women are true religious after God’s own heart!
My experiences are certainly less far-reaching than Father Rohr’s, but they are also valid, at least regarding my own congregation and my friends in other communities. They stretch back to my profession in 1949, grace-filled years of change and growthsometimes unseen and unseeable, but very real.
Louise Finn, C.N.D.
West Haven, Conn.
Despairing Asylum Seekers
I enjoyed reading Maryann Cusimano Love’s column, What Counts as Help (11/20), and I especially appreciated her mention of the 20,000 refugees fleeing persecution and death in their home countries who are denied admission to the United States because of our antiterrorist laws. What she failed to mention was that these refugees are often held here in the United States in locked, windowless dormitories and prison cells while their cases are being determined. These refugees come from Cameroon, Albania, China, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan, Haitiessentially from all over the world. They come by whatever means they can, usually with false papers, seeking refuge in the United States. But instead of a warm welcome, these noncriminals are sent to a detention center while waiting for an immigration law judge to decide their fate. They wait weeks, months, even years for a decision to be made. Their hope of a better life often gives way to loneliness, confusion and despair.
I visit a young woman from Ethiopia who has been held in the Elizabeth Detention Center in Elizabeth, N.J., for two and a half years. This young woman fled Ethiopia a number of years ago after her father and brother, political activists with the Oromo Liberation Front, were killed by members of the Tigrean-dominated government. She herself was raped by these same political thugs.
Unfortunately for this woman, her asylum case has been denied and she is now waiting for deportation back to Ethiopia, a country where she has not lived for many years and has no family nor friends. She has great fear of returning. But despite all the turmoil, disappointment and uncertainty in this woman’s life, she remains ever gracious to everyone who visits her at the detention center. I often wondered how she could not be more bitter and depressed about her situation, so I asked her. She told me that naturally she does get depressed at times but that her strong faith in God carries her through these dark periods. Her philosophy is that God must have some plan for her and that her life is in his hands. She can only wait and pray for God to take care of her.
I also am praying that some immigration official will read this letter and cause him or her to reflect on the need to treat those seeking asylum here in the United States with more compassion and dignity. In this holiday season, as we celebrate with family and friends with lots of food and drink and where many of us have more material things than we will ever need, how can we turn our backs on those seeking asylum, those seeking to share in just a little of the tremendous bounty of the United States?
Mary A. Schoen
New York, N.Y.
In Jolted by Affluence (11/27), Thomas G. Casey, S.J., states that Ireland’s apparent rejection of the Catholic Church and its teachings is caused by teachers who did not teach well, parents who did not pass on the faith and the new affluence that has finally befallen the poor, long-suffering Irish people. If Ireland is losing its Catholic identity, the cause may be that the teachers and parents themselves received inadequate instruction. If the instruction given to these teachers and parents was based on shame, guilt and fear, there was little room left to develop that relationship.
Perhaps the bishops of Ireland are guilty not only of covering up sexual abuse but also of not fulfilling their responsibility to teach adequately Jesus’ message of love. It is difficult to retain a positive view of the church and its teachings when it treats its own so badly. The institutional church often seems to do a better job at judging than loving. Many opportunities truly to teach the Gospel message have been squandered by the hierarchy and some priests. The current state of religion in Ireland saddens this great-grandchild of four Irish immigrant grandparents. But if our despair can be wrapped in hope, there is still a chance that faith will again thrive in the hearts of the native Irish as well as its many new immigrants. All things are possible with God. Also, no amount of money can dislodge true faith and a real relationship with Christ.
The perceptive essay by Thomas G. Casey, S.J., on the decline of Ireland’s Catholic identity, Jolted by Affluence (11/27) recalls the disquieting work of the journalist Mary Kenny, Goodbye to Catholic Ireland. If I might add to Father Casey’s analysis, I would say that another important contributing reason for the malaise that currently afflicts the Catholic Church in Ireland has been the severity of the church over the years, often thrusting onerous burdens on a people already bereft and suffering. There was the aloofness of priests that spawned a divide between them and the people, often engendering fear and isolation despite the esteem and respect Irish Catholics held for priests in the past. This uncompromising attitude was pervasive.
The flight of many of Ireland’s young men and women to pursue their vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the United States and Australia during the past century was due not solely to missionary zeal but often to sheer necessityan untold blessing, of course, for the many who benefited from their noble sacrifices. Unfortunately, the miserable Irish Catholic childhood that Frank McCourt decried in Angela’s Ashes carried over into Irish Catholic adulthood for too many, and the church is now reaping what it sowed. My Irish immigrant parents, like most of their generation, were loyal and devoted to the church, but sadly those days are over. Sadder still is the gnawing realization that, for the most part, the church brought this terrible miasma on itself. The church, of course, will rebound, but not in the foreseeable future. During this Advent season of hope, perhaps a counsel attributed to the novelist Victor Hugo might lift our spirits: Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones, but sleep in peace. God is awake.
(Rev.) William T. Cullen