Oh the drama ... (can nuns survive?)

A friend at work (who I've clued into my whole discernment thing) sent me a link to this article on MSNBC titled, "How can nuns survive in America?". What drama! An interesting side effect of the Pope's passing is the constant attention to Catholic issues in the news. This is the first I've seen though of attention on the "plight" of Catholic sisters.

The article makes some interesting observations, but is a bit melodramatic I think:
-"the fear of extinction has caused panic"
-"to survive, the church needs to clearly articulate its vision for nuns in the 21st century"

The picture this paints is of women religious as a bunch of scared dinosaurs waiting for the meteor to hit. Or waiting for "the church" to come up with some miracle Star Wars defense system to save them.

The main problem with this line of thinking (although there are many) is the assumption that Catholic sisters are needed as the work horses of the church. True, the numbers did swell in the mid 20th Century, with young women joining religious communities and providing much needed services in Catholic schools and hospitals. That was the need of the time, and the Spirit guided those women to religious communities where they could meet that need.

I don't think that's the need of our time. I think our time needs prophetic witness, a focus on prayer and contemplation and action for justice. And I believe in my heart that the Spirit is guiding women to religious communities as we speak where they can meet this need and help to guide our church in coming years. But I don't think this will require the large numbers of the past ... if it did, then I think the Spirit would be helping to swell the numbers again. Remember, quantity is not always quality.

Yes things will be different. Yes there will be challenges and risks. Yes some orders may "die out." Others will grow and all will change. But I don't think the meteor is going to hit and I certainly don't see the dynamic Sisters I know waiting for "the Church" to save them. Instead I see dialogue, prayer, discernment and hope for the future.

That said, it is interesting to see this dramatic headline on the main MSNBC page... Wonder what "dramatic" stories are next?


Anonymous said...

I think you are probably right, that while the serving orders (teaching, nursing, social work) will disappear, having been supplanted by secular organizations (mission accomplished, we might say), the contemplative orders will always attract those who are that way inclined.

On the other hand, we do stand to lose some important institutions. I just found out that a local retreat centre is in real trouble. They don't have enough Sisters to staff it any more and can't afford to hire more staff. Where are members of the public, especially women, supposed go for empowering spiritual exploration that fits into their busy lives and "meets them where they are"? Not everyone will be comfortable or fulfilled by going to a monastery and chanting the office, assuming they can manage it logistically. I like that there is something in-between secular and monastic, and it would be sad to lose it.

Susan Rose, CSJP said...

Syliva, I don't think the active orders will go away. The order I'm getting to know is an active order. It's just that the focus on staffing giant institutions is no longer the operating force. Instead Sisters are involved in a variety of ministries, spreading their charism and spirit across a wider area.

I think contemplative orders and active orders will thrive. But to meet the needs of the times, it will be in a different way than the past.

Luckily God's in the mix. All will be well.

And I'm also hopeful that more women are starting to pay attention to their own persistent thoughts and explore the possibilities religious life holds. The groovy sisters haven't had anyone enter in a few years, and all of a sudden there are 5 pre-candidates.