Sister Fran Ferder, FSPA, deplores the fact that the apostolic visitation of religious sisters is unlikely to involve a holy exchange of spiritual goods on the model of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. Writing in the December 22, 2009 issue of US Catholic, she tells us:
The visitation that is upon members of women’s religious communities now bears few of the marks of this model Visitation given to us in Luke’s nativity narrative. The Apostolic Visitation, as it is unfortunately called, was not born of religious women’s desire to meet, greet, and talk of things important to them. Rather, it was decided for them and thrust upon them. The topics of the “conversation” are less about a desire to know the heart of the other, and more about getting information—some of which is perceived as a violation of privacy.
The haste of Mary’s journey to Elizabeth had energy—little sparks of power that charged their encounter with a new recognition of the goodness that each of them carried in their bodies. It is the same holy energy that is carried within each of us. When we journey toward one another with this same spirit of earnest care, each of our meetings effects visitation once again. It is hard to imagine the Apostolic Visitation having such an impact of grace.
Shouldn’t run with sharp metaphors, Sister; they make you bleed when you stumble. Had St. Elizabeth been as spiritually sterile as your fellow chakraswappers in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Mary would have had no reason to leave Nazareth. Conversely, were the Vatican’s inquisitors to discover after throwing open all the closets that your sisters radiate the same fecund faith as John the Baptist and his mom, what’s there for you to be afraid of? Muddy footprints on the carpet?
The Comfortable Falsehood
“Power corrupts,” as Jesuit John O’Malley remarked, “And ecclesiastical power corrupts ecclesiastically.” The women who took control of religious congregations after the Council followed their male counterparts in this respect, if not all. Those in power learned that repeating a comforting falsehood—in this case, the claim that their orders were healthy—is easier than confronting a painful truth. They made their own the abiding bureaucratic wisdom that almost any lie is preferable to loss of face.
A couple years ago Barbara Nicolosi wrote about her fortuitous encounter at a Chicago hotel with a group of “greyhaired women in Walmart clothes and sensible shoes” who were instantly identifiable as nuns—convention-going Sinsinawa Dominicans, as it happened. She asked one of the sisters whether she might join them for Mass the next day.
“Mass?” [the sister] said. “And why would we be having any kind of Eucharistic liturgy on Friday?”
I focus on this example not because it has extraordinary gasp-value but because of its humdrum believability. It’s all too characteristic of LCWR-style religious life today, and anyone who denies that it’s typical doesn’t know what he’s taking about. “Why celebrate our redemption on Friday?” Not exactly the response Mary got from Elizabeth.
A Different Perspective
Now suppose you were one of the marginal minority of Sinsinawa Dominicans who actually yearned for daily Mass, who naively imagined on entering the convent that daily Mass was one of the benefits certain to be provided, who failed to understand her superiors’ arch contempt for it, who lacked the boldness or the clout to secure an alternative for herself, who’d failed in her attempts to convey the reality of the situation to authorities…
You hear that an apostolic visitation is at hand. What sort of feelings are going to be kicking around inside of you?
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