Monday, October 18, 2010

Went to Ellis Island

There is an exhibit there right now called "Women and Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America." It was really great and showed how much religious sisters contributed to life in America from its very beginning. Did you know that religious sisters helped to found the Mayo Clinic? Did you know that an American sister died in the Civil War tending the injured soldiers? And at the beginning of the Civil War, sisters ran 30 hospitals to treat battle-wounded people, while the Union and Confederate Armies between them ran just 3?

It also had several habits that sisters had worn through their history there and passports, original baggage that the sisters brought to the USA and their naturalization papers. The exhibits profiled St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Katherine Drexel, and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini.

It was weird to see a wimple that one order of sisters had worn in a display case. It was similar to the one below (worn by St. Catherine Laboure), but it didn't come down in the back. The sisters wore it as part of their habit from 1684-1964. Imagine, the order wore basically the same habit for nearly 500 years, until 1964.

What happened in 1964? Oh yeah, this was going on. It was the '60's! Time to throw 500 years of tradition out the window and, like, totally engage the world, you know? Because when you wear a habit it's so hard to, like, be in the world, you know? Because people might, like, recognize you for being Catholic and have some expectations for you to totally represent Jesus in every way. Jesus was all about peace and love and social justice. He had long hair just like all the boys in the '60's. And He never, like, brought people down about following the rules and stuff. Oh, but wait. Didn't He say He didn't come to abolish the Old Covenant? And I think He was fairly clear about following the Law. (Mt. 5: 17-20) Jesus isn't a hippie.

I can't speak for every woman, but I am proud to be Scott's wife. I rarely leave take off my wedding ring and if it weren't totally tacky to wear a T-shirt all the time that says: "Scott's wife" I would.

Which is why, if Jesus selected ME to be His bride, and I said "yes," I would want to scream about it from the rooftops. Because, no offense to any men (especially not to MY man), but Jesus is the PERFECT spouse. I just don't understand why you wouldn't want to wear that habit all the time and show the world just by your clothes that you are honored and privileged to be the Bride of Christ.

I don't want to give a poor impression of the exhibit, put together by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (who haven't been really happy about the apostolic visitation that Pope Benedict has sent to investigate all orders of women religious). I hope that it helps all who see it understand the very real contributions that Catholic sisters brought and still bring to our country. It was a beautiful exhibit. Right up until the end.

That's when they got to modern times. It was awesome to see so many clergy and sisters marching on Selma, Alabama in support of Civil Rights. It was less awesome watch a sister advocating for women's ordination to Pope John Paul II when he came to the USA in 1979. I wonder what Mother Cabrini or Mother Seton or Mother Drexel would say to that?

The exhibit dead-ended at a wall right there at that video. As I write this I wonder if it wasn't fitting that the exhibit came to a dead end right there. Most of the orders in the LCWR are dying. Young women are not joining those orders the way that they are the orders that belong to the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious. A lot of these orders have a different kind of vocations crisis: not enough places to put all of the women who want to become postulants.

To exit the exhibit, I had to walk back through the entire thing, back to the beginnings of the sisters' history in the USA. As I remember this, it occurs to me that the problems facing us in regard to today's religious sisters aren't really that new. It seems that as long as there have been religious orders there have been those who thought the rule was, like, too haaaaard, you know? Look at good old St. Benedict. He comes up with his rule, and at first a whole bunch of guys think it's great. They follow him up Monte Cassino, and then there are so many of them that Benedict goes to found a new house. Except the guys in the new house think the rule is too hard to follow. So they try to kill him.

Then there's St. Teresa of Avila. She goes into the Carmelites and is a little surprised to find that instead of being cloistered, a lot of the nuns spend time chatting up rich donors. Teresa liked it for a while, but then she begins to think there should be something more, well, God-focused. So she reforms the Carmelites and gets in all kinds of trouble, not just with her sisters and superiors but with the clergy too.

Maybe right now the wheel is turning. This, too, shall pass. Maybe this is just what we have to go through to usher in a new golden age of the Church. Only the Lord knows which saints are in the making right now. Let's pray for them.

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