Know Your Neighbor (Nuns and the Roman Catholic Church)

This summer, I am working at a Catholic Hospital.  I was sitting in the office working on a report when, on a whim, I turned to the Sister of Mercy sitting next to me and asked, “How long have you been a sister?”

She seemed a little startled that I would be interested, but she said, “Oh, um, in August it will be 60 years.”

I said, “Wow…that’s impressive.”  I wanted to ask the next question, but I wanted her to know that I was asking it to actually know her thoughts and not to only get a reaction.  I trusted she would err on the side of the former.  Sixty years as a nun and all, I figured that was a fairly safe assumption.

“So how do you feel about this reprimand from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious?”

She stopped typing at this, slowly turned to look at me and looked for a long moment before answering, “It makes me very sad.  I was furious when it first came out.  I think it just shows that they don’t know us from Adam’s apple, and I don’t think they care.  But they have all the power, and it just makes me very sad for the church.”

She has given sixty years of her one and only life in service to a church that has come out and said that she is subverting the church by promoting a message that is anti-Catholic.  I cannot imagine what that feels like, and I prefer living in ignorance in that account.

Despite my not ever hearing the idiom “not knowing from Adam’s apple” before, I think her sentiment is clear, and it makes a profound statement.  The Vatican speaks from a position of ignorance where American nuns are concerned.  More than just the Vatican administration’s insistence on desperately clutching at antiquated Earthly hierarchies, this is a profound statement about our lives as Christians.

How can we love our neighbors as ourselves if we do not know our neighbors?  I would contend that a big part of the reason, not all, that some of these denominations and churches continue to fight and preach against having women and homosexual people in leadership positions in the church is because they don’t know these people.  People do not go where they are not welcome.  Homosexual people generally do not populate churches that claim they are all going to hell, and women interested in ministry generally do not go to churches that claim it is a sin for them to do so.[1]

I would say that it is infinitely more difficult to claim that Greg[2], your neighbor, the guy who picks your kids up from school when you cannot, who helped you find your lost dog, is going to hell because he is homosexual than it is to claim that homosexual people in general are going to hell.  In the same vein, the Vatican’s administration is afraid of women in the church having independent thoughts that will subvert the church, but they do not know these women or the passion that they hold for the Church or how much it is their face and actions that keep Americans in the Roman Catholic Church.  We cannot love our neighbors if we do not know them.  One does not love a faceless entity or a generic group, for it is impossible to have true love on this level.  We can love the people we know in our day to day interactions, and it is infinitely more difficult to oppress someone whom one knows personally.

I need to be clear; I am pulling for the Roman Catholic Church.[3]  In much of the world, they are still the predominant, if not only, face of Christianity.  I am pulling for them to cut this…nonsense out and get back to preaching the love of Jesus Christ.  The gospel of Christ is not about who is able to preach and lead in the church and whether one can or cannot use birth control.  The Gospel is about the love of God that is available to all people and that we should show to people every day in all of our interactions.  I am pulling for the Vatican administration to get on board because the public face of the Roman Catholic Church is quickly becoming that of a group of old men oppressing women and gay people.  American nuns do not need to be told that the Gospel is about a message of love.  That message has been promulgated by them for a long time, and the administration needs to be following their lead.


[1] Neither is an absolute by any means.

[2] Guy I just made up on the fly.

[3] I am never joining the Roman Catholic Church because I have far too many theological differences with them.

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One comment on “Know Your Neighbor (Nuns and the Roman Catholic Church)

  1. Hal says:

    Truly some of the greatest Christians I have ever known are Roman Catholic nuns, specifically from the Daughters of Charity and the Sisters of Mercy. The ones I have known indeed live out Jesus’ command to love and to serve all unselfishly and often unassumingly. I am deeply humbled by their life of service, commitment, and humility, and it saddens me that many of them (I suspect) feel alienated from their own religious leadership, just like this nun you describe.

    I do indeed think marginalized groups within the church and society — like women and homosexuals — make it harder for others to continue their ideological projections when the humanity of those groups is easier to touch, know, and experience. This isn’t to put the burden of “education” solely upon the shoulders of the oppressed; it’s all of our responsibility, for sure. But if the “others” (whoever they happen to be) won’t listen (yet), the seed must still be sown, even if it falls in weeds and between rocks.

    Sounds like you have having a good CPE experience.

    Me, too! See you soon…

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