The Inseparability of Spirituality and Justice

I grew up with a very sacred text in my family.  Yes, we had a family bible, but being Catholics that wasn't read very often.  No, the sacred text I refer to is the Washington Post, the Francois family paper of record. We were a political family which placed a deep value on keeping abreast of world and national issues.  Dinner table conversations were often prompted by an article or editorial someone had read.  My Dad still reads most of the paper each day and as a result keeps his pulse on what is happening in the world from his assisted living appartment.

In my world of course, one of the biggest happenings of late has been the recent hullabaloo between the men who make up the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and the women called to leadership of religious communities like my own.  Regular readers of the blog will know that I've not written much here about that situation here, mostly because I want to respect the process and place my trust in our leadership and the Holy Spirit.

The Church for the most part moves slowly, and women religious tend to make decisions through consultation, dialogue and consensus which is also a pretty slow process.  I keep waiting for the mainstream media to loose interest in this slow as molasses process.  It's not your typical conflict and doesn't readily meet the mold of our 24 hour news cycle.  And yet, I think there is also a certain level of fascination with a conflict where there are not quick flash points and he said she said accusations.  Yes, there are inevitably elements of that, which the media latches on to and broadcasts widely whenever it does happen, but I think for the most part people from the outside-looking-in sense the love that all involved have for the Church and the deep level of prayer and commitment to a resolution that is worthy of the followers of Christ.  How that plays out is different for the various players involved of course.

I continue to be impressed by the commitment to nonviolent engagement on the part of the Sisters in leadership. My guess is that those on the outside-looking-in are also intrigued by this rarity, as illustrated by last month's Fresh Air interview Sister Pat Farrell and today's profile of Sister Pat in the Francois family paper of record, aka the Washington Post.

Today's WaPo story focuses on Sister Pat's life of ministry with people who are poor and oppressed, much of it in a Latin American context.  Truly I think this does give her, and many women religious, a unique experience to draw upon.  The article highlights her experience in Chile, where she took over a ministry from Maryknoll Sister Ita Ford who was moving to a new ministry in El Salvador.  A few months later, Ita was of course one of the 4 church women who were tortured, raped and murded by death squads in El Salvador in 1980.

Sister Pat spent a few years in Chile, and then moved to work in a refugee camp in El Salvador.  This is where her story touches mine tangentially.  You see, she went to work in the refugee camp where some of our CSJP Sisters had been living in solidarity with refugees of the brutal civil war. Later, she moved to Suchitoto to minister with the people.  This is a town that I have visited and where two of our CSJP Sisters, Sister Susan Dewitt and Sister Margaret Jane Kling, live today.  Sister Susan runs our health care mission in El Salvador and Sister Margaret Jane, who had lived at the refugee camp, now teaches English to children and grandchildren of those she had known in the camp during the war.

When I was a novice, I had the opportunity to visit El Salvador in the company of two of our Sisters who were there during the war.  The visit moved me deeply and gave me great insights into the call of women religious today.  Countless times during our tour, we would drive by a police station or other sight that would prompt a humorous story of close misses, where our Sisters were arrested or threatened by the powers that be simply because they were standing with the oppressed people they lived and ministered to.  I hear echoes of those stories in the WaPo profile of Sister Pat.  "We had some scary moments with the military ..." she says.  Indeed.  I can't help but think how well this has prepared her to engage conflict nonviolently.  She had daily training for years on end in learning how to live with integrity in the face of oppression.

The current hullabloo is not about one person and by no means do I intend to compare it to a civil war.  But it is still part of the shared experience of women religious in the past half century.  Sharing is a key element here that I think outsiders might not quite understand.  In fact, given the unique shared leadership structure of LCWR, Sister Pat will still be involved in leading the group over the next year, but there will be a new President and a new woman elected next week who will become President after her.  

So while it's not about one person, it is about shared experience and approaches to life, ministry and faith.  Over the past 40 years, many women religious have lived  and ministered with people on the margins of society, whether that is with AIDS patients or homeless urban Native Americans, with children with multiple disabilities or families without health insurance. We have a saying in our community that wherever one of our Sisters is, we are all there.  So while I have not had these ministry experiences, my Sisters have, and this in turn has informed our shared experience of life as followers of Jesus who pay special attention to the "little ones."

Toward the end of the profile, Sister Pat is quoted as saying: "For me, that spirituality and the work of justice are entirely inseparable.  If either one is authentic, it leads to the other."

This rings so true to me and speaks of authentic experience.  In our CSJP Constitutions, we say:

Our history calls us to a special love
for those who are poor.
The weight of suffering and oppression
borne by so many people today ...
cries out to us for action.
Our response demands a firm commitment
to work for justice
in solidarity with our sisters and brothers. (21)

Our intimacy with God
unifies our prayer and activity
so that we are moved to action by prayer
while action urges us to pray.
In unity with the Church
and with all of creation
we give praise and thanks to the Giver of all gifts.
We open ourselves to the liberating power of God
whose Sprit in us leads to peace. (28).

Amen.  Please join me in praying for our Church, for the Bishops appointed by Rome to engage with LCWR, for the women in leadership who will meet in St Louis next week, and for all of God's people.  That we may learn to follow Jesus with integrity and love, open to the call and presence of the Holy Spirit, living the good news in service of God and all of God's people, especially the most vulnerable.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Very well written Susan. Yes your family legacy prepared you well to live out the CSJP Charism.