By Isabella R. Moyer
Difficult conversations have greater need for dialogue
The more difficult the conversation, the greater is our need for dialogue.
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) understands this
first-hand. Since Vatican II, many religious congregations have evolved
from hierarchical leadership styles and unquestioning obedience to more
horizontal, communal forms of discernment. Living, praying and working
in community requires acknowledging and embracing differences, not seeking
mindless uniformity. Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell (now past-LCWR president)
describes it as coming to “trust divergent opinions as powerful
pathways to a greater clarity.”
The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
issued a harsh doctrinal assessment and critique of the LCWR in April.
Farrell believes that the tools gleaned in religious life will provide
the “compass” to
guide the sisters through the difficult conversations ahead. On August
10, she reflected on these tools in Navigating the Shifts, her presidential
address to the LCWR Assembly. Their lived experience of community is
one of these tools. Here are the others.
Contemplation is critical. In situations of impasse, “it is only
prayerful spaciousness that allows what wants to emerge to manifest itself.” In
personal and communal prayer, “collective wisdom” is allowed
to “germinate in silence.”
Vowed religious are called to be a prophetic voice. Farrell
humbly acknowledges that “There is no guarantee, however, that simply by virtue of
our vocation we can be prophetic. Prophecy is both God’s gift as
well as the product of rigorous asceticism.” She believes that
a prophetic response to the doctrinal assessment would be “humble,
but not submissive; rooted in a solid sense of ourselves, but not self-righteous;
truthful, but gentle and absolutely fearless.”
Solidarity with the marginalized not only allows us to “give ourselves
away in love,” it also acknowledges that deep wisdom can be found
on the margins of society. Those who are “less able to and less
invested in keeping up appearances, often have an uncanny ability to
name things as they are. Standing with them can help situate us in the
truth and helps keep us honest.” Those who are oppressed can also
teach us “resiliency, creativity, solidarity, the energy of resistance,
Change can often be a violent process. We are challenged
to respond with non-violence, refusing to “shame, blame, threaten or demonize” the
other. Non-violence is not becoming a passive victim. It requires a creativity
that “refuses to accept ultimatums and dead-end definitions without
imaginative attempts to reframe them.”
LCWR LEADERS ADDRESS PRESS CONFERENCE — Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell, centre, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, addresses a press conference near the end of the group’s annual assembly Aug. 10 in St. Louis. Joining her was president-elect Franciscan Sister Florence De acon, left, and Dominican Sister Mary Hughes, right, past president of the organization. (CNS/Hastings)
Finally, we are called to live in joyful hope. Farrell
reflects on the parable of the mustard seed. Prairie dwellers know that
mustard is flavourful and has medicinal benefits, but it is usually an
uncontainable, prolific weed. So, why does Jesus use it to describe the
reign of God? We can live in joyful hope because there is “no political or ecclesiastical
herbicide that can wipe out the movement of God’s Spirit.” If
it is God’s work, it may be stomped out in one place but it will
reappear in another.
Dialogue is vital to healing present divisions; not only between the
LCWR and the Vatican, but within the church as a whole. Many believe
that dialogue is impossible in this time of increasing polarization.
Sister Pat Farrell provides not only hope, but valuable tools that can
be applicable to all.
Prayer and contemplation are of greatest importance. We all need to step
aside from the chaos and confusion and enter into the silence where God
speaks to mind and heart. It is there that effective responses to the
chaos and confusion can be found. Prayer also helps us to seek non-violent
and respectful paths for dialogue. Hurtful, hateful and demeaning words
do not flow from prayer.
Some folks personally assume the prophet’s mantle to give credence
and weight to their own anger and rants. True prophets, though, seldom
seek the limelight. They are usually thrust into the role with a Divine
nudge. They find themselves in the right place at the right time; often
against their will. True prophets also quickly learn that being open
to God’s Spirit often requires humbly putting aside their own agendas.
This is perhaps the greatest challenge in any dialogue. It will surely
be a challenge for both the LCWR and the bishops.
While religious life is a prophetic and charismatic vocation
in the church, Sister Pat Farrell has rightly acknowledged that those
in religious life aren’t automatically gifted with a prophet’s
voice. We can only hope that the bishops will also acknowledge that they
do not automatically hold all the answers by virtue of their teaching
The women of the LCWR did not invite either the Vatican
visitations or doctrinal assessments. Yet, they are seeking to respond
in ways that are true to their lived vocation. In Farrell’s words, “And
now, here we are, in the eye of an ecclesial storm, with a spotlight
shining on us and a microphone placed at our mouths. What invitation,
what opportunity, what responsibility is ours in this? Our LCWR mission
statement reminds us that our time is holy, our leadership is gift, and
our challenges are blessings.”
We can only hope and pray that this will become a graced moment for dialogue in our church.
Moyer is a Catholic blogger (http://catholicdialogue.com) who lives with her husband David in Neepawa, MB. She is president of the International Organization of Marianist Lay Communities, a canonically recognized, private association of the faithful whose charism promotes a Marian model of church that is inclusive, egalitarian, participatory and concerned with social justice.