Someone recently asked me about my thoughts on the Vatican's rebuke of U.S. nuns. I've been following the controversy only marginally. For me, internal striving within the Church is discouraging. Division among Christians just makes me sad. That said, I do think it's interesting that the most thriving religious orders for women in the USA are the most orthodox, habit-wearing ones. To me, that makes perfect sense. Honestly, if I were to become a nun right now, I'd be all about the habit. None of this old-lady turtleneck and loafer stuff. None of these flighty little half-veils. No, thanks. I'll take the full kit and caboodle, thankyouverymuch.
Of course, I'd probably get sick of it within a month and start blinging out my veil with rhinestones--BUT! at first, I'd be ALL in. I mean, if I'm going to give up sex AND take a vow of poverty, there's no WAY I'm settling for a a half-baked convent. Where's the glory in that?
I'd wanna be 100% sold-out, marching in front of pro-life parades in full-habit! If I were a young nun, I'd be all blogging and tweeting and rallying and speaking and firing it UP for the Lord! In Latin, yo!
Which is to say, I understand why the orthodox lifestyle of a conservative nun is appealing to young women. These are young women who've witnessed and lived the fallout of the sexual revolution. They've seen the devastation of divorce, they've experienced the harm of a highly-sexualized society. And they want something different. They want something pure and holy and radical.
You know what? I get that. The Church needs the fiery enthusiasm of youthful nuns. Also, speaking out on Big Cultural Issues is all the rage right now. I mean, you can't hardly be a Christian these days without being hounded about your stance on abortion! gay marriage!
Something still unsettles me about the Vatican's rebuke.
The Church needs the older, gentler nuns, too. These are women who have shown remarkable fortitude during massive cultural upheaval. Their service and dedication to the poor is nothing short of heroic. So what if they haven't "done enough" fight the culture wars? Not everyone serves God by marching in pro-life parades or giving rousing speeches.
There are quieter, more invisible ways of service that are just as valuable: fighting the death penalty, advocating for the poor and serving in schools and hospitals.
Frankly, I have nothing but respect and admiration for these women.
I've heard it said that the Catholic Church has suffered such declining numbers in the past 30 years because of disobedient, watered-down Catholics. By emphasizing purist practice and a return to strict doctrinal adherence, is the Vatican hoping to re-energize the dwindling faithful and attract young people?
Well, it might work. But it also concerns me. Because if it weren't for the broadening and opening of Catholic Church (thank you, Pope John Paul II), the doors of the Church would probably have remained closed to someone like me. Even so, it took incredible perseverance (and being granted a special dispensation) for me to hammer my way into the Church. This is because, unlike expansive, easily accessible mega-churches, the Catholic Church is not particularly "seeker and user-friendly" (at least, here in Southern California which is predominantly evangelical Protestant).
So, I remain deeply indebted to the quiet, invisible work of those nuns who have faithfully served their Church and whose kindness toward me has not gone unnoticed. These non-judgmental souls have welcomed me and through the fruits of the Holy Spirit, shown me--with very few words--what loving God looks like.
My hope is that the Church won't take sides against its own.
What do you think? Was the Vatican's rebuke warranted? Will it accomplish anything good?