The National Catholic Review
The Vatican visitation prompts reflection on a religious divide.
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Religious life among women is undergoing a massive evolutionary change that can only be described as cataclysmic. The Vatican’s apostolic visitation of congregations of women religious in the United States and the recent investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious indicate that Rome is unhappy with so-called post-Vatican II nuns who have donned secular clothes and abandoned traditional community life. The current statistics show a trend. The number of religious sisters and cloistered nuns in the United States was almost 180,000 in 1965. In 2009 there are just over 59,000, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. A steady decline in the number of women religious, together with the fact that their median age is 75, is a sign that religious life in the United States is a dying institution. Yet new communities have sprouted up in which women religious don a traditional habit and follow a daily schedule of prayer and service. These communities are attracting youthful, vibrant vocations. On the surface, the future of religious life seems to be on their side.

Those who have taken off the habit and those who are putting on the habit mark two distinct paths in religious life today. What is happening? Did most women religious misinterpret the documents of the Second Vatican Council? Is what some see as a rebellious streak taking its toll? Have women defied the church? Some interpret empty novitiates and an aging membership as evidence that women religious have made the wrong choice—for secularization. Others maintain that their intent was to live more authentically as women religious in a world of change.

The chasm between traditional and progressive religious life was made evident in 1992 with the publication of The Transformation of the American Catholic Sisterhood by Lora Ann Quiñonez, C.D.P., and Mary Daniel Turner, S.N.D.deN. The book impelled Cardinal James Hickey, bishop of Washington, D.C., at the time, to travel to Rome to fight for the establishment of a congregation of women religious that would be more faithful to the church. Hence the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious was formed with membership based on wearing the habit, communal prayer, eucharistic adoration and fidelity to the church. Meanwhile, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious continued in the spirit of Vatican II to be open to the world, exploring avenues of liberation theology, feminist theology and the plight of the poor, among others. Although dialogue was sought between L.C.W.R. (to which the majority of women religious communities still belong) and C.M.S.W.R., that desire for dialogue was not mutual. Rome has thrown its weight on the side of C.M.S.W.R., giving its members top ecclesiastical positions.

While the two groups of women religious seem to oppose each other, they form what Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., the former master general of the Dominicans, calls in What Is the Point of Christian Life? two different theologies based on different interpretations of Vatican II. Members of the Leadership Conference embrace modernity and the work of the council as the Holy Spirit breathing new life in the church. They fall under what Father Radcliffe identifies as the Concilium group, who focus on the Incarnation as the central point of renewal. Members of the Conference of Major Superiors, by contrast, are Communio Catholics, who emphasize communion through proclamation of the faith, a clear Catholic identity and the centrality of the cross. Members of the Conference of Major Superiors, by contrast, are Communio Catholics, who emphasize communion through proclamation of the faith, a clear Catholic identity and the centrality of the cross. (Concilium and Communio are the names of two periodicals founded in the postconciliar era. The first stressed conciliar reforms; the second stressed the continuity of the council documents with the community of the faithful through past centuries.) Thus, one group focuses on doxology and adoration (Communio), the other on practice and experience (Concilium). One sees Christ as gathering people into community (Communio); the other sees Christ as traversing boundaries (Concilium). The C.M.S.W.R. recently held its eucharistic congress under the title “Sacrifice of Enduring Love,” while the L.C.W.R. continues to work on systemic change. The former sees religious life as divine espousal with Christ; the latter sees Christ in solidarity with the poor and justice for the oppressed.

As Father Radcliffe states, this is not a conflict between those who are faithful to the council and those who would return to a preconciliar church. Nor is it between those who are faithful to the tradition and those who have succumbed to the modern world. Rather, the conflict is about two different understandings of the council and how to carry its work forward. While I appreciate Father Radcliffe’s thoughtful distinctions, my own experience of women religious tells me that the root of the differences between the two associations is fear of change. I say this not by way of judgment but from personal experience.

My Journey to a New Theology

When I entered religious life in 1984, I had a newly minted Ph.D. in pharmacology and an opportunity for a postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Yet I had discovered Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain and could not let go my desire to renounce the world and live for Christ. My understanding of theology, church and religious life then was rudimentary. I flourished in the 1970s as a budding scientist, writing manifestos of liberation. Though I attended Mass weekly, I did not appreciate the liturgical changes of Vatican II. Instead I longed for the mystical ritual of the Latin Mass I knew as a child, even though I had never understood a word the priest said. When I made the decision to enter religious life, I sought an austere community where I could make a lifetime sacrifice to live for God alone. Wearing a habit was important to me because it represented holiness and religious identity. I entered a Carmelite cloister of nuns who wore a long, traditional habit and followed a set schedule of daily prayer, silence, adoration and the rosary.

My idealized view of religious life began to collapse in the cloister. Day in and day out I recognized how far I was from any noble aspiration of sanctity. I lived with women who suffered manic-depression, came from alcoholic families or were widowed early in life. There was little personal sharing and little contact with the world. The God to whom I had once felt so drawn began to melt into the darkness. I wondered whether I had chosen solitary confinement. I asked for a leave to discern my path and was sent to a Franciscan community near a university where I could resume my research. This community also wore a habit and followed a similar daily schedule, but the sisters’ openness to the world was liberating. I studied theology at Fordham University, wearing a full habit and feeling separate from my classmates. On weekdays, I lived in the Bronx with Ursuline sisters.

My first conversion in religious life centered around the final examination in a New Testament course. I had no computer or place to work until an Ursuline sister offered me her office and computer—and a cooked dinner. Sister Jeanne’s attentiveness to my needs, which included waiting up with me until after midnight, opened my eyes to the meaning of Incarnation. For the first time I saw God humbly present in jeans and a sweatshirt. Next I saw God in frail Sister Catherine, who carried out an extensive outreach to the local poor, and in Sister Lucy, whose 40 years as a missionary in Alaska gave me more than just the entertainment of her fascinating dinnertime stories. In the simple common life of the Ursuline sisters, I saw God fully alive. I saw the same God among the Allegany Franciscans who provided me a home where I could write my doctoral dissertation. They drew me out of my study cell, took me to the park and out to eat and listened to my woes. By graduation, I had resided at three different motherhouses among sisters whose congregations were all members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

Through the study of theology I began to reflect on the Incarnation and the two different ways of religious life I had experienced. I realized that Jesus practiced Jewish customs and rituals, lived the humble life of a carpenter and felt called to public ministry around age 30, but he did not separate himself from others by dress or occupation. Engaging in the sociopolitical and economic struggles of his day, he reached out to the poor and showed compassion for the sick and dying. Jesus proclaimed the reign of God and gave his life as witness to the fidelity of God’s love. For that he died the public death of a criminal, without honor or glory. The early Christians who experienced the risen Lord were empowered to proclaim it. They had to be: until the conversion of Constantine, living as a Christian was a recipe for martyrdom. Today, too, Gospel life means giving witness to God’s goodness in Christ. In 2005 Dorothy Stang, of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, gave her life as a martyr for the impoverished people of the Amazon.

Both contemporary groups of women religious—the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious—witness to the Gospel revealed in Jesus Christ, but their trajectories differ. The former primarily seeks to be espoused to Christ; their focus is a heavenly nuptial union. The latter group primarily follows Christ the liberator, witnessing to Christ amid the struggles of history. In both groups one can find idols, secrets and dysfunction as well as saints, prophets and mystics. Both groups are sinful and redeemed. Both follow canon law; both maintain health insurance, car insurance, retirement funds and plots for burial.

Teilhard’s Evolutionary Vision

What difference does religious life make to the world? Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., brought light to this question by understanding Christianity in an evolutionary universe. What we do and the decisions we make in history, Teilhard said, influence the genesis of Christ. Christ is the goal of the universe, the new creation, the future of what we are coming to be. We who are baptized into Christ must let go in love and descend into solidarity with the earth. Teilhard noted that there is nothing profane on earth for those who know how to see. Adoration means seeing the depths of divine love in ordinary reality and loving what we see. This universe is holy because it is grounded in the Word of God. It is Christ, the living one, who is coming to be.

For many years I wondered whether women religious had misread the signs of the time. Yet as I have pondered the mystery of God, I have come to believe that the evolutionary universe is moving forward in part because women religious are working in the trenches of humanity among those who are poor, oppressed and forgotten. Today world religions are playing a greater role in the synthesis of a new religious consciousness. The women of L.C.W.R. have risked their lives in the pursuit of authentic Incarnation and have proclaimed prophetically that the love of God cannot be exterminated or suppressed. They continue to fight for systemic change on behalf of oppressed people. Congregations may die out, but the paths inscribed in history by the women religious of Vatican II are nothing less than the evolutionary shoots of a new future.

As Teilhard noted, suffering and sacrifice are part of the evolutionary process. Isolated structures must give way to more complex unions. To live with an evolutionary spirit is to let go of old structures and to engage new structures when the right time comes. The new heaven and earth promised by God will not come about by cutting ourselves off from the world or forming Catholic ghettos. It will not unfold through the triumph of ecclesiastical power. It will come about as we follow the footprints of the crucified one, descending into the darkness of humanity and rising in the power of love. This is the path to a new creation symbolized by Christ.

We believe that what happened between God and the world in Christ points to the future of the cosmos. That future involves a radical transformation of created reality through the unitive power of God’s love. To be a Christbearer is to focus on the inner depth of love. It is love that puts flesh on the face of God, love that makes Christ alive; love is the power of the future and the unfolding of Christ. History will not remember what we wore, where we lived or how we prayed, whether as Concilium or Communio Catholics. In the evening of life we all shall be judged on love alone.

Ilia Delio, O.S.F., of the Franciscan Sisters of Washington, D.C., is professor and chair of the department of spirituality studies at Washington Theological Union.

Comments

Maggie Suits | 4/12/2011 - 1:08pm
I am verily surprised at the number of negative responses to this Sister's article.  Some liken her to a politician who spouts lies in order to persuade the public, others claim she is downplaying tradition.  These two communities of women (the C.M.S.W.R. and L.C.W.R.) are presented in black and white terms, true, but that is because their actions and interpretations are that different.  And what is wrong with that?  Each group represents an attribute of Jesus; he both gathered people into community and stood up for the oppressed.  I see nothing wrong in either group's work.  One group alone cannot fulfill every one of Jesus' teachings or God's wishes...that is why an entire religion is centered around him - he was that special.  If everyone would open their eyes and hearts to see how they could better the world by combining their talents and working together, things would be a lot different and this article would not have to be written or criticized.
Todd Phillipe | 3/5/2010 - 8:28pm
A penetrating and thoughtful article that, by tying change in the church to the concept of evolution through God, frees us of the bonds of the present, as exemplified by the two schools of thought, communio and concilium. The church needs people to practice both, and I have to wonder if the Vatican and those conducting the apolostic visitation understand this. Alas, I doubt it. I write this 5 months after the article was published. Despite its majesty and awesomeness, the Church provides but a glimpse of the eternal and changing God.
S G | 11/5/2009 - 9:57pm

I enjoyed reading about Sr. Delio's experiences as a religious.

However, the dichotomy she sets up - that of "Concilium" nuns who lead contemplative lives and "Communio" nuns who lead active lives - is a bit of a red herring.

The Church is not investigating the LCWR simply because it is has a grudge against the active religious life, which, contrary to the way Sr. Delio frames it, did not just spring up out of Vatican II.  Indeed, the active religious life was around for centuries before Vatican II, with the Church's blessing.  So to suggest that the Church "has it out" for "Communio" religious suggests an ignorance or a disregard of Church history.

Rather, the Church is investigating the LCWR because of concerns that some (not all, but some) of the nuns in those orders appear to hold (and in many cases do not seem hesitant to pubicly express) positions contrary to the teaching of the Church.

The Church's concerns are not about the active life, and they're not about street clothes - per se.  Mother Theresa's Missionaries of Charity are an "active" order who wear street clothes (well ... I'm assuming their saris count as street clothes in India) - but who would accuse them of being unfaithful to the teachings of the Church?

There are, I'm sure, many women's religious orders connected with the LCWR who are 100-percent faithful to the Church's teachings, and I am certain that the apostolic visitation and investigation will laud them for their faithful service to the Lord and his Church, and maybe even apologize to them that the actions of others have led to a certain undeserved suspicion.

But hopefully it will also weed out those who - "Concilium" or "Communio" - publicly reject the Church's teachings.

ANTHONY MACIOROWSKI | 10/18/2009 - 6:35pm
Occasionally, one is graced with having a truly great an equally humble teacher.  As I visited a nearby monasterey gift shop yesterday, I noticed three of her books for sale. Upon returning home, retrieving my mail, and sitting down to read my America Magazine, there she was again.  So once more I encountered Sr. Ilia Delio.  I have had her for a class entitled Encountering Christ in a Scientific World, listened to her speak at a Conference on the Dialogue Between Science and Religion, read her book on Bonaventure's theology focused on Christ as crucified love, and attended two lectures she gave on Medieval Women Mystics at the Presbeteryian Church down the street from my home parish.  My most memorable encounter was over pizza, when I was struggling with one the Church's teachings and attempting to explain my alternative intellectual (read sophmoric here) understanding, that I admitted I knew too little about.  To her credit, she listened patiently, and did not engage me too deeply beyond "you have to be careful here so that you don't fall into serious error."  Not a response, I was expecting, but exactly the response I needed to hear.  As I read the comments to her article that so clearly align with our individual preferences for Concilium or Communio, I couldn't help but feel that most of us may have missed her key conclusion.  She clearly concludes that following Christ is not about one or the other, but on being a Christbearer focused on the inner depth of love. I truly wish that all of us could have the opportunity of meeting and hearing this courageous and committed woman religious who has encountered Christ in both medieval philosophy and theology as well as modern science.  I belive her to be uniquely gifted to share her vision of Jesus alive and well in both worlds.  As rooted in Bonaventure as she is, this means Christ as Crucified Love.
ANTHONY MACIOROWSKI | 10/18/2009 - 6:24pm
Occasionally, one is graced with having a truly great an equally humble teacher.  As I visited a nearby monasterey gift shop yesterday, I noticed three of her books for sale. Upon returning home, retrieving my mail, and sitting down to read my America Magazine, there she was again.  So once more I encountered Sr. Ilia Delio.  I have had her for a class entitled Encountering Christ in a Scientific World, listened to her speak at a Conference on the Dialogue Between Science and Religion, read her book on Bonaventure's theology focused on Christ as crucified love, and attended two lectures she gave on Medieval Women Mystics at the Presbeteryian Church down the street from my home parish.  My most memorable encounter was over pizza, when I was struggling with one the Church's teachings and attempting to explain my alternative intellectual (read sophmoric here) understanding, that I admitted I knew too little about.  To her credit, she listened patiently, and did not engage me too deeply beyond "you have to be careful here so that you don't fall into serious error."  Not a response, I was expecting, but exactly the response I needed to hear.  As I read the comments to her article that so clearly align with our individual preferences for Concilium or Communio, I couldn't help but feel that most of us may have missed her key conclusion.  She clearly concludes that following Christ is not about one or the other, but on being a Christbearer focused on the inner     eh   in    
Sr. Maria Elena | 10/16/2009 - 8:28pm
Dear Sr. Ilia,
Your article had lift up my day. I am a physician and I gave my life for Christ and professed 4 years ago and living in South Florida with so much conservatism and Hispanic Traditions I was in a big dilema of where to go or place my identity as Religious and your article opened my eyes. But I think we need to either come to a midle point and present to Rome with courage the reality of times because even them need a radical transformation and the public needs to be more educated about.
Joyce Turnbull, RSM | 10/14/2009 - 6:51pm
DS | 10/14/2009 - 2:01am

The "incarnation" model depends on human misery.  Its purpose is to mitigate unhappiness among fellow humans.  The "adoration" model depends on the kinship between humanity and God.  In a sense, then, the former is essentially a political vocation, whereas the latter is essentially a religious one.

Perhaps the harder vocation in our time is the religious one, because we live in a very secular, material age in which, nevertheless, we are continually being bombarded with the message that the world in which we live is essentially destructive - to the environment, to human beings, to other living creatures - and must be counteracted wherever possible.  Surrounded as we are, then, by never-ending messages of the need for a sort of secular redemption, it is only natural that anyone with a heart softer than stone would feel a strong pull toward some form of charity, toward trying to lessen the deliberate and incidental damage done to fellow humans and to the environment that sustains or fails to sustain them.  The "incarnation" model, therefore, is a very good fit for the time in which we live.

The "adoration" model, on the other hand, seems to belong to the Middle Ages, a time of violence and belief, when the attractions of this life were far less seductive than they are now.  Anyone, therefore, who chooses this model will be going against the grain of the age.

One could say that in extremely materialistic times, engaging God is best done materially.  Don't fight city hall - subvert it from within.  Or one could say that when the material world becomes overwhelming, God is most effectively engaged as far as possible from its noise and glitter, in the quiet of one's own heart.

Peggy in Evanston | 10/12/2009 - 7:42pm
it would be interesting to read more of Sr Delio's personal story in the sisterhood. Indeed, it would be interesting to read more sisters' and nuns' personal stories generally speaking.  Karen Armstrong's story of her seven years in the convent in quite fascinating in 'Through the Narrow Gate'.  However, for me Sr Delio's at times poetic prose does not at times match the reality that, while many contemporary religious sisters do work with the poor and marginalized, perhaps surprisingly many also do not.  My comment comes from nine years' experience as a (former) Dominican sister. American women religious are at the end of a 200-year period of apostolic ministry in the schools and hospitals. Nonetheless, we were taught in the novitiate in the late 1990s that, as religious life has been a reality for twenty centuries now, it is unlikely to fade out of existence. Reportedly women today seeking to enter religious life are interested in community and spirituality. But questions remain: Are they finding what they are seeking - whether in the cloister or in the 'world'. Could America magazine run more stories on past and present members of women's religious orders and their experience?
Lorenzo | 10/12/2009 - 4:03am
All the Church must support pope Benedict XVI, he explains very well that there is only one chatolic church, not one before the Vatican II and one after; those who think that the Vatican II started a "new church" are really wrong. That is particularly true for the priests and religious.
I hope that all will follow his example, specially in celebrating, and his right and most inspirational words.
 
 
Frank Wessling | 10/10/2009 - 3:34pm
If some religious women are inclined to the way of communio and others to the way of consilium and both are orthodox, then gestalt might be a good way to consider what's happening. With some women, the bridal desire is in the foreground without denying a background of incarnational work, with others the incarnational is foreground without denying the background of kingdom glory.
DJP | 10/10/2009 - 8:37am
She still did not answer the question - why so few vocations if they are on the right path? Obviously, she made the wrong choice when she enterred the convent, but using her example to discredit other traditional communities demonstrates a lack of charity and understanding why these traditional communities grow and flourish.
 
The Rev. Deborah Dunn | 10/9/2009 - 6:42pm
I am humbled by this article and thankful to God for the love and witness of Franciscan Sisters. As an Episcopal priest, I realize that I am outside the usual course of comment on things Roman Catholic, but I must say that the struggle to be faithful is not confined to one side or another, one denomination or another. I applaud the author for her courage to write about the path of her heart and I am grateful for women religious who continue to witness to the plight of the poor and those on the margins of our very wealthy and privileged society. They are Christ's evangelists. Surely Holy Church recognizes that and will not seek to prescribe one call over another.
Bridget | 10/9/2009 - 3:08pm
I doubt that God has the desire to "micromanage" Christianity by caring if a habit is worn, a roman collar,a mitre or jeans.  These are all human desires and ideas all designed to categorize or control others.  
Let's get back to basic human rights/dignity/freedom and truly follow in the footsteps of Christ who looked into the souls of the downtrodden to help them, challenged those in authority to put aside being pompous, and find the treasure that is truly important...the spirit.
Unitl the need to control others through external means is put to sleep...it will continue to rear its ugly head and be used to judge others.
Ross | 10/9/2009 - 10:19am
Please allow me to point to St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) as a model of Christian discipleship that requires that one be both radically traditional and inventively progressive.  Citing the Eucharist as a proof of the inventiveness unto infinity of God’s love, St. Vincent’s communio was equally and inevitably a concilium.  At Vincent’s funeral, the preacher declared that Vincent had just about “transformed the face of the Church.  Such transformation could properly be described, I think, in terms used by another St. Vincent—St. Vincent of Lerins—who wrote:  “The understanding, knowledge and wisdom of one and all, of individuals as well as of the whole Church, ought then to make great and vigorous progress with the passing of the ages and the centuries, but only along its own line of development, that is, with the same doctrine, the same meaning and the same import.”
Michael in Nebraska | 10/8/2009 - 6:45pm
Powerful, heartfelt, theology and witness to the transformational Trinity alive and working in our beloved Catholic Church .
6466379 | 10/8/2009 - 6:30pm
"Confessions Of A Modern Nun" by Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio is a great piece of many facetted truth literature.
 In the article surprisingly, I learned something important to  me, since I hold that position, considered by heads far wiser than mine to be "foolishness!"  I learned  that Teilhard agrees with me, that, "suffering and sacrifice are part of the evolutionary process." I wonder if Teilhard, saying it better that I could,  would also assert that suffering is actually the result of an "evolutionary mistake" foreseen by the Creator who, rather than preventing it, decided to apply its consequences Incarnationally, redemptively having endowed the evolutionary process with the freedom to zig, or zag at will? If true this would help  answer the age old dilemma of how an an ever  loving God could be responsible for the incalcuable amount of suffering in the cosmos, especially when blamelessly experienced as in the case of innocent children. I suggest He is blameless!
Bruce Snowden
Michael McLaughlin | 10/8/2009 - 9:10am
This story and one in Commonweal point to the developments in theology following Vatican II. It is good to remember that councils have a long timeline in their reception. Surely, the polarization of either Communio or Concilium can be transcended. It hope that many theologians and religious educators read both. The failure of episcopal leadership in the priest abuse scandals should be noted before one launches into an investigation of sisters who don't live in convents, etc. A modicum of humility would be nice. Also, these reflections should note that the theology of the laity and of marriage often written by lay theologians is an area that is developing rapidly and will place religious life in a new light. Can one really imagine Jesus pitting one group of women religious against another?
 
 
 
M.J. Ernst | 10/7/2009 - 1:56pm
I was always under the assumption that, in the same way that there is a difference between friars (whose vocation is to work in the world e.g. Franciscans) and monks (whose vocation is to be seperated from the world e.g. Benedictines), that there is the same distinction between sisters and nuns (in the strict sense of those words). Why should a Cistercian nun have to abandon her habit and abandon the cloister when her order was not founded to "go out into the world", and why should a Dominican sister be required to be cloistered when her order was founded to work "in the world"? 
ed thompson | 10/7/2009 - 10:35am
Powerful testimony of two legitimate ways for women religious to act on the love of Christ in their hearts.  Rome's investigators need to reflect on their motives.  If it is about fear of change, then this article sets out a blueprint to encompass both methods to act on God's promptings.  Thanks to Sister Delio for her insights.
Gerelyn Hollingsworth | 10/7/2009 - 10:20am
Once again we see the claim that there are 59,000 nuns in American convents. ___
This figure, often published but never substantiated, is apparently derived from the statistics supplied each year to The Official Catholic Directory by bishops, but an examination of the statistics for individual dioceses makes it obvious that most nuns are counted (at least) twice, once by the bishops in whose dioceses their motherhouses are, and again by the bishops in whose dioceses they live and work. ___  
Maybe the visitation/investigation of American nuns will finally give us the true number.  Catholics are asked to contribute to the support of aging religious, but are not told the number. ___
How many nuns are really in American convents?  The Directory prints a disclaimer on its title page about the reliability of the statistics within.  If there were really 59,000 women still in religious life, that would mean congregations retain one-third of their 1965 populations.  Can anyone name any orders with 33% of their 1965 members?  The orders I follow most closely have 15% or less.  I think the total number of nuns in American convents today is less than 25,000. ___
http://GerelynHollingsworth.com/
Eugene Kleinhans | 10/6/2009 - 5:09pm
As for comment by JC on 10-02, AMEN!!!  I was thinking along the same lines but didn't write.  After reading the comment, had to add my support.  If anyone thinks the Church is removed from the world, just look at the partisan tone that has taken over discussions, from parish level on up.  We cannot expect us as a body of the faithful to be homogenized any more than the Apostles were.
Mary B Jennings | 10/6/2009 - 7:14am
Let us applaud the WONDERFUL Faithfull Loyal WOMEN that enter convent life during the 1950's and 1960's / The BEST and Brightest group of WOMEN that The Roman Catholic Church has ever seen.  How dare YOU [the Official Catholic Church ] try to smear and marginalize them!  
  
Jerry Gordon | 10/6/2009 - 7:01am
There are many within the LCWR who have a profound respect for the contemplative life. So it seems to me that to demonstrate the journey from one theological position regarding religious life to another through the use of a bad experience of a contemplative monastery can be a confusing rather than elucidating.
On her own admission Ilia's understanding of religious life at the time when she entered was rudimentary. She had little understanding of Vatican II, and longed rather for the mystique of an earlier liturgy etc. That may well be a normal situation for a person before entering a religious order. But it can hardly be said to represent a mature theology of religious life or a mature ecclesiology. It seems unfair to assume that others who now live religious life in a way different from that to which Ilia has progressed simply have failed in that maturation process.
Sister Ilia's experience of living religious life began in a monastery which seems to have included a number of dysfunctional people, and, therefore, probably a dysfunctional community life and quite possibly a dysfunctional spirituality and theology. Clearly that was an undesirable situation. But does it represent a renewed theology of the cloistered life or indeed, of any religious life? Can it be substantiated that the dominant dynamic of fear, which Ilia claims to have identified, itself indicative of a less than healthy pyshological make-up, is what distinguishes one form of religious life from another, one aspect of renewal from another?
Is Ilia wanting to say that not all religious in the States are in the LCWR style, not all are in the same mold, merely because they are too afraid of change?
Can one dare to dream of real listening between different ways of living the charism of religious life, which is meant to be a source of energy in the Church?
Joseph Papeika | 10/6/2009 - 2:35am
Thank you Sister Ilia for the insightful article. The Yin and Yang of religious life that emphasizes the "God and I" dimension vs the "Neighbor and I" dimension are indeed complimentary parts of the whole. Because few are able to really attain a balance, "active" and "contemplative" types of religious life have developed. There are some orders of which I am aware that try to do both. One is a small community of Franciscans in Boston, "The Little Brothers of Saint Francis" (littlebrothersofstfrancis.org) who wear a habit made of sturdy blue denim as a way to retain a habit while identifying with the poor amongst whom they live. These brothers follow a contemplative horarium but include time each day to befriend the homeless, alcohol and drug addicted, AIDS afflicted, and other modern day "lepers." I lived with this community as an "observer" for three months and found them to use their contemplative time to strengthen their connection to God and energize themselves for the active part of their apostolate all while being faithful to the Holy Father and Constitutions on Religious Life. I am sure that there are other communities that attempt to do the same. Remember Jesus both went away to solitary places to pray and he taught, healed, and lived in solidarity with the poor.
Regarding habits, again from personal experience. I went to a Roman Catholic grammar school run by the Sisters of Mercy (RSM), during the time of the Vatican II council. As a young child I was frightened of the nuns in full habit with their Rosaries clacking against the rulers in their hands ready to swat any youngster who "got out of line." As the reforms of the council came into being, the same nuns shed their "Darth Vader-like attire" to wear a modified habit that did look more like a uniform with, a cross, or crucifix to let the beholder know that they were Catholic or Christian Sisters. The change in habit seemed to change their demeanor and I was able to relate to them as teachers rather than strictly scary disciplinarians.
Maria Byrd | 10/6/2009 - 1:58am
"To be a Christbearer is to focus on the inner depth of love. It is love that puts flesh on the face of God, love that makes Christ alive"-but not for the manic depressive, nor the woman from an alcoholic home, nor the widowed? Wow.
Maria | 10/5/2009 - 6:34pm
"To be a Christbearer is to focus on the inner depth of love. It is love that puts flesh on the face of God, love that makes Christ alive; love is the power of the future and the unfolding of Christ"-but not for the manic depressive, or women from alchoholic homes or the widowed? Wow.
Maria
Maria | 10/5/2009 - 6:34pm
"To be a Christbearer is to focus on the inner depth of love. It is love that puts flesh on the face of God, love that makes Christ alive; love is the power of the future and the unfolding of Christ"-but not for the manic depressive, or women from alchoholic homes or the widowed? Wow.
Maria
Maria | 10/5/2009 - 6:34pm
"To be a Christbearer is to focus on the inner depth of love. It is love that puts flesh on the face of God, love that makes Christ alive; love is the power of the future and the unfolding of Christ"-but not for the manic depressive, or women from alchoholic homes or the widowed? Wow.
Maria
Maria | 10/5/2009 - 6:32pm
"To be a Christbearer is to focus on the inner depth of love. It is love that puts flesh on the face of God, love that makes Christ alive; love is the power of the future and the unfolding of Christ"-but not for the manic depressive, or women from alchoholic homes or the widowed? Wow.
Maria
Peter Castaldi | 10/5/2009 - 10:06am
Sister Ilia is a gift from God, sharing a journey which all of us must make  - beginning with a child's hopeful and naive view of God, moving to a more mature view of what God is and asks, ending with the simplicity of the child who accepts God on Her terms.  Thank you Ilia!  Please keep me and my loved ones in your prayers, I will keep you and yours in mine.
FrMichael | 10/5/2009 - 3:51am
Another ostrich with her head in the sand.  The progressive sisters are about to go extinct and their "spirituality" has turned out to follow the path of Fr. Teilhard, a spiritual gelding if there ever was one.
Too bad the legacy of flaky sisters, priests, and bishops of the so-called "Vatican II" generation will be the reduction of the Catholic Church in the US to a small sect on the order of the Mormons.  Their dereliction of duty in failing to evangelize and catechize the laity in this country has doomed us to cultural and social irrelevancy for the foreseable future.
 
 
 
Phil | 10/4/2009 - 8:34pm
Sister Delio's comments sound to this Catholic convert much like my independent Protestant friends explaining why their theology and practice is better. This personalization of church is why the Protestant Church is splintering into thousands of unique groups from very fundamentalist to New Age.  The Catholic Church is hierarchal and theology and practice has accountability and that rescues us parishioners from theological personalization of the local pastor.  Sister Delio wants to be an independent Protestant, not a Catholic.
Sister Helen Huellmantel | 10/4/2009 - 7:51pm
I appreciate the article by Ilia Delio in "America"  magazine.  The most effective aspect of the article is that Ilia stated her faith experience, reflections and continuing conclusions.   It seems to me that her writing is an honest story of her Journey so far.  All of us have such a story through which we have been called to faithfulness to God.  I have been a member of a Religious Order for almost sixty years.  I followed what was expected of me because I loved God very much.  This has not changed.
Still, as Vatican II commenced, I felt an uplifting breath of the Holy Spirit within me and around me.  I already felt called to do the work as invited to by the vatican Document, Church in the World written by our own Detroit, John Cardinal Dearden and his committee. It was from conferences from the Cardinal and those that the desire for me to prepare myself and integrate what was deep in my heart with what was in the world around me.   In the sixties, in our Order we formed groups (committees) dealing with various topics of religeous life.  I was a part of the committee dealing with Apostolic Life.  I did research into church documents. I did and active apostolic ministering in the lower east side of Manhattan where I lived and worked with the Fourth World Movement members.  The following summer, I spent ministering in the inner city of Kansas City, MO.  This was done in connection with the Parish  Community.  After those experiences, I wrote a supposition paper which was used by the sisters of our community.  I went on to begin preparing myself to move to the inner city of Detroit and work with children and families who are struggling with poverty and numerous other challenges.  Studies showed the 50% of the families in that area lived below the Federal Poverty Level.
All of the above was done with the approval of superiors to  whom I was  accountable.  Though I am no longer living and working in the neighborhood, the Montessori School,  I established in 1978, is still serving children of the area. 
For me the very important Statement, found in the very first paragraph of 
THE PASTORAL CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH IN THE MODERN WORLD, GAUDIUM ET SPES,  Promulgated By His Holiness, Pope Paul the VI, On December 7, 1965, which states
"The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men(and women) of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way affflicted these are the joys and the  hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the followers of Christ.
Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts."
This is what I believe and follow as much as possible.  I cannot just forget that there was a Vatican II and all that is brought to the church.  It has led me,  It has led many religious women.  I know that it will continue to do so.
One more point.   Over and over I have heard about the decline in the number of members of Religious Orders.  I think about the priests.  This year there were 5 ordained in the Detroit Archdiocese.  I walk down the halls of Sacred Heart Seminary and look at the pictures of newly ordained priests of the past.  The numbers have been in the  40's, 30's 20's and now 5. 
The situation of a lack of women religious is the result of many factors the least of which is the wearing of the habit.     
 
       
Sister Helen Huellmantel | 10/4/2009 - 7:50pm
I appreciate the article by Ilia Delio in "America"  magazine.  The most effective aspect of the article is that Ilia stated her faith experience, reflections on scripture and continuing conclusions.   It seems to me that her writing is an honest story of her Journey so far.  All of us have such a story through which we have been called to faithfulness to God. 
I have been a member of a Religious Order for almost sixty years.  I followed what was expected of me because I loved God very much.  This has not changed.
Still, as Vatican II commenced, I felt an uplifting breath of the Holy Spirit within me and around me.  I already felt called to do the work as invited to by the Document, Church in the World, written by our own Detroit, John Cardinal Dearden and his committee. It was from conferences and discussions with the Cardinal that the desire to me integrate what was deep in my heart with what was in the world around me.   
In the sixties, in our Order we formed groups (committees) dealing with various topics of religeous life.  I was a part of the committee dealing with Apostolic Life.  I did research into church documents. I did and active apostolic ministering in the lower east side of Manhattan where I lived and worked with the Fourth World Movement members.  The following summer, I spent ministering in the inner city of Kansas City, MO.  This was done in connection with the Parish  Community.  After those experiences, I wrote a supposition paper which was used by sisters of our community.  I went on to begin preparing myself to move from the suburb to the inner city of Detroit.  There, after spending two years being present, with another sister, studying the neighborhood and talking to people.  The need evolved so that I began the work with children and families who were struggling with poverty and numerous other challenges.  Studies showed the 50% of the families in that area lived below the Federal Poverty Level.
All of the above was done with the approval of superiors to  whom I was  accountable.  Though I am no longer living and working in the neighborhood, the Montessori School,  I established in 1978, is still serving children of the area. 
For me a very significant statement, found on the line of  THE PASTORAL CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH IN THE MODERN WORLD, GAUDIUM ET SPES,  Promulgated By His Holiness, Pope Paul the VI, On December 7, 1965, which states
"The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men(and women) of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way affflicted these are the joys and the  hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the followers of Christ.
Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts."
This is what I believe and follow as much as possible.  I cannot just forget that there was a Vatican II and all that is brought to the church andd the people of God.  It has led me.  It has led many religious women.  I know that it will continue to do so.
One more point.   Over and over I have heard about the decline in the number of members of Religious Orders.  I think about the priests.  This year there were 5 ordained in the Detroit Archdiocese.  I walk down the halls of Sacred Heart Seminary and look at the pictures of newly ordained priests of the past.  The numbers have been in the  40's, 30's 20's and now 5.  It is the same in all Archdioceses. 
The situation of a lack of women religious is the result of many factors the least of which is the wearing of the habit.     
 
       
JUAN JARAMILLO M D MR | 10/4/2009 - 7:30pm
Matthew 26: 6-16 sheds some light on this issue: A woman adores Christ, and others get upset. The money spent on the costly perfume, they say, could have been used for the poor. And it is a sensible thing to say. Yet Jesus Himself rebukes them: "The poor you will always have with you..." It is at this point, according to Matthew, that Judas starts looking for an opportunity to hand him over. The work of the nuns "in the world" is good. But it doesn't have to be exalted by humiliating the work of the more traditional cloistered nuns, which is what this article does. Thank God for the Mother Angelicas of the world, now and throughout history.
Michael Reed | 10/4/2009 - 6:40pm
Dear Sister Delio,
Your habit, a priest's collar or the robes of a monk have more power and influence than you can know, and were a large part of at least the emotional side of my Catholic conversion.  Considering I am a common man in type, it must be true that this had been the same, on a conscious or unconcious level, for many others.   
You obviously have a very good heart, and a superior intellect as well, but I see you over-thinking and over-feeling on this.   It is simple and true that in all human societies that "uniforms" are like icons, and without them our world is a less easy to navigate.  Policemen, Firemen, Doctors, Nurses, EMT, Military, etc.; all there to help, and yes even "save" us.  All readily recognized by their uniforms.   And we all feel a little more physically safe and secure in ourselves because of their visibility.   With the Religious, there is a certain spiritual safety & security well feel in your "professions" presence, that is the same.   This is a visceral, non-intellectual reaction in all of us.  While your passion and profession is known to you and can be seen in your work and words...  it cannot be seen when you're sitting in a bus station.  
When a young person, like I was, sees a Sister "in habit" on the street, in a hospital, or even at a social event; it sparks the imagination and curriosity.   I, from a non-religious protestant family, simply "knew" that Sisters were something special, who were there to help people in some way... like Doctors, Policemen, etc.  I'm afraid you and other Religious undervalue the impact you have by just being there.. in a recognizable way.  Without my childhood exposure to the habit, I seriously doubt that I, my wife, my children or granchildren would be traveling the Catholic path today.   I hope you value this & God Bless you! 
Sr. Pat Conroy | 10/4/2009 - 3:32pm
My admiration goes out to Sr. Ilia, who has written so eloquently of the struggle we all face in Religious life today.  Her honesty and fidelity to the guidance of the Spirit are inspiring.  I entered Maryknoll in 1950, at a time when we followed the traditional style of religious life.  As a missionary community this life style was often at odds with our charism of outreach to the poor, social justice, etc.  Then in Graduate School after Vatican II in 1968 I underwent a conversion after studying the documents and theology of Vatican II.  In both periods of my life, as with Sr. Ilia, I believe I was following the Spirit and was faithful to God's leading.  I love my Church, but am also loyally critical.  I love my community and the leadership which has helped us to move together with the Spirit into the future. I give thanks for the grace of living as a Catholic sister in these prophetic times!
ALM | 10/4/2009 - 11:52am
My aunt would have been considered rebellious for what she was doing in the Amazon.  She did not go to Brazil to fight the corruption in Government.  She went there to teach and spread the Word of God.  What she found was God's poor being treated inhumanely.  Having their land stolen, their families killed, their schools burned.  She could not teach, have a meeting or have a prayer service until people were fed, clothed and had a roof over their heads.  The wonderful leadership of the Sisters of Notre Dame have been tremendously supportive and continue to go to dangerous, impoverished areas all over the world and asked to perform miracles without stepping on anyones toes.   I as just a normal lay person find it amazing that our religious women are asked to do more and more with our priest shortage, yet they are criticized by those in Rome or as here in the Cincinnati Archdiocese for their proactive thinking or unusual tactics to help those most in need.  I have always felt that to fight the fight, you must get in the trenches, not supervise or criticize from a safe, comfortable place.  Now firing nuns for their thoughts????   What next, jail?
Fr Ronan Kilgannon Erem.Dio. | 10/4/2009 - 4:29am
It seems to me that the religious in the USA who have opted for a different way of life to what Church authorities and Canon law understands as religious life, should be honest, opt out of the religious life they are not living and become members of a Secular Institutes - the way of life they are living.
Am not sure that what fr Radcliffe and Sr Ilia are talking about is anything new. It is the way of Secular Institutes that the church recognised decades ago and incorporated her Canon Law. So my word to Sr Ilia is simply be honest and convince your congregation and other such congregations into becoming a Secular Institute. Then there will be no reason for the present Visitation.
And by the way, just because many religious congregations belong to LCWR does not mean that it represents all the religious in those congregations. If the situation in the U.S. is similar to that in Australia I would suggest that there are many religious in the Congregations belonging to LCWR who lament the loss of the religious life that they professed many years ago.  
Michael Olson | 10/4/2009 - 3:53am


"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.                            

This article points up what happens when any small group, whether it be the Vatican or American religious fundamentalists, attempt to restrict Awareness, telling others in effect,  "We have encompassed God in our dogma, everything new is false."  Often it is discovered that what is thought to be new is actually ancient.

Teilhard was influenced by the East.  One of the most telling images from the East is when a child from the West and one from the East were  asked, "Where is God?" The child from the West pointed upward.  The child from the East placed its hand on his/her own heart. 

How close is God?  How close is your awareness, your breath, your heartbeat?  Find God there and express that as your own wisdom and freedom allows.

Kathleen | 10/4/2009 - 12:07am
As I read Sister Dilio's article, it struck me that every useful, compassionate thing I've learned in life was from nuns. I went to Catholic schools from kindergarten through college. And when a moral question arises, do I turn to the bible or to a priest? No, I turn to my memory of the way Christ would have responded, as taught to me by the good sisters of many different orders. Whether they wore habits or mini-skirts, nuns are always consistent in my mind as people who understood how to do the right thing and then lived out their beliefs in the way Christ taught them.
I also have noticed since I was a young child that women Religious and men do not share the same support from the Roman Catholic church. Should young women feel called to a church that does not offer both men and women the same level of status and respect for their work? Women in developed countries have gained a lot of ground in the past 40 years in terms of employment opportunities, equality in marriage and equality in the courts.  Young women today expect that they have the same range of choices in life as men. That is, except within the Church.
Before the Vatican spends another minute assesing if the Church would have more women joining religious orders if nuns had to live more like they did pre-Vatican II, they should ask themselves: how would Jesus have treated these women? If they followed that thinking rather than constantly revisiting the tradition of the church, I think they would have more women compelled to join religious life.
 
 
Steve | 10/3/2009 - 11:26pm
When a hungry hand reaches out for bread it matters not whether the hand behind wears a black robe or a T-shirt, what matters is that the hungry gets fed.  The wimple of a  habit wearing nun, or the "hoodie" wearing sister from the Bronx - means just as little to God, but what means everything is love.  As in the Beatles song, "COME TOGETHER" - that Sisters, is my advice.
Seima Hughes | 10/3/2009 - 8:55pm
A thoughtful article by Sr.Delio whose scholarship I greatly admire. Her conclusion is fair that the conflict is about two different understandings of the council. The problem stems from the formation of the alternative leadership conference, which is divisive.  It requires religious to "choose", "to take sides" .  Then one side is perceived as more desirable, and preferred over the other. The more charitable and Christian approach is to encourage  diversity and seek to understand it.
Gail F | 10/3/2009 - 8:06pm
I would very much like to know what a department of "spirituality studies" is; if this is an example of "spirituality" then I don't think much of it as compared to a religion. The universe is Christ who is coming to be? We must descend into solidarity with the earth? World religions are playing a greater role in the synthesis of a new religious consciousness? I've heard it before - on Oprah. It doesn't mean anything.
Sister Ilia mentions that orders like hers are shrinking and that the average age is 75, but then dismisses this reality with the airy certainty that God is doing something important with the women who share her spiritual views - somethign to do with evolution, "nothing less than the evolutionary shoots of a new future." That may well be, and I hope so, because the alternative is very sad. It seems more likely, though, that this kind of thinking is more of an evolutionary dead end. If we are supposed to take evolution as our theological guide, then we need to see that this spirituality does not seemed to be adapted for our time and situtation, and it does not replicate itself.
Angela M. Hibbard, IHM | 10/3/2009 - 3:12pm
I have to respect Sr. Ilia's broad experience of religious life - the Carmel, a congregation wearing habits but participating in the spirit of aggiornamento, and then the "liberated and liberating" sisters serving the poor and dressing as ordinary women.  I disagree somewhat, however, with her analysis of the two directions women religious have taken in their response to the Council's call for updating and return to the spirit of their founders.
Most of the congregations of active women religious in the United States, at least, were founded for some ministry  - teaching, health care, social work, etc.  In the days of our founders, religious wore habits, lived in community,  and shared what they had.  No one could imagine another form of religious life.  It seems to me that, back then, it might have been easier for our founders to remain in ordinary garb and have more activity outside the religious houses - things that Angela Merici tried to do back in the 16th century.  However, the "house rules" for religious life, had been laid down by a culture which felt compelled to protect women.  By 1917, when canon law finally recognized the existence of apostolic congregations, it was assumed that religious women would wear some sort of distinctive garb, live some form of cloister, and observe many of the old monastic customs such as kissing the hand of the superior, asking permission for everything, and taking the discipline.
What seems to have happened after the Council is that women religious finally recognized that external appearance and living arrangements should be more dictated by the requirements of ministry than by medieval custom.  Finally we were able to imagine what Angela Merici - and perhaps others - had recognized so long ago.
I do not think that we need to divide the trajectory of religious life by saying that some of us seek total communion with God's own Self and others seek to serve God by relieving human suffering.  Jesus was not divided like that and didn't ask us to be divided either.  Total dedication to God belongs to every expression of religious life as does some form of service.  The error, of there is one, is a lack of imagination.  Those who have gained the ascendency in Rome imagine that not wearing a habit, not living in community with others, not attending daily Eucharist is tantamount to not being a true religious.  Those who have left the old accoutrements of religious life behind imagine that anyone who sees value in the old things is not being faithful to the movement of the Holy Spirit for the post-modern Church.  Both are wrong.  Over the centuries God has led religious men and women to form many different expressions of total decidation.  The thing that all the various forms have in common is a hunger for God so strong that religious let go of family and career and self-determination in order to respond to that call.
My hope is that, in this "visitation" currently going on, the emmisaries from Rome will have their imaginations expanded as they discover in the women religious of the United States the hunger for God which they share but express differently.
Paul Zlatic | 10/3/2009 - 2:45pm
I appreciate sister's reflection, but I am completely baffled why being faithful to the church and wearing a habit are imcompatible with serving the poor?
JC | 10/3/2009 - 11:49am
We have a group of cloistered Carmelites that we visit every three or so months who are the most joyful and lively persons I have ever known.
I am sorry for Ilia's misfortune of belonging to an unhealthy group but want to say that her  experience is not universal. Only in heaven will we know what they have done for us.
John David | 10/3/2009 - 11:46am
Wouldn't it be wonderful if these two groups could show us how to live together? To show us how, as Christians, we can respect one another, to see Christ in one another? Even though we may see our individual response as how to live a Christian life differently, we are all still part of the mystical body of Christ. Wouldn't it be wonderful if Rome would help promote an understanding between these two groups instead of favoring one, which, ultimately pits one against the other? It is very discouraging  that, so often, it is religion and many of our leaders that use these differences to divide us, rather than unite us? I know that it can be very difficult work to understand each other, but the importance of this work cannot be underestimated. Our religious leaders should be leading the way, but, unfortunately, all too often, they don't.
William McAnally | 10/3/2009 - 11:13am
A beautifully written article that more than justifies the Concilium approach. Just as there are different gifts of the spirit, there are different paths to God. I hope that the Vatican will not once more succumb to being exclusionary and insisting on a single rigid orthodoxy.

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