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Tim ReidyJuly 02, 2012

Just posted to our Web site, Nancy Sylvester, IHM, a former leader of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and NETWORK, writes on the journey of women religious since Vatican II:

The bishops are right. Women religious have changed, not only in the United States but throughout the world. We have changed in ways that invited us to let go of who we thought we were. Surrendering to the Spirit, we awakened to new understandings that touched our deepest core. Change at that level is transformation. It radically altered how we see ourselves, the Gospel, our church, our world and most importantly how we understand our God. This change in consciousness was not easy. No, it was painful, but like the pain at childbirth it dissolves in unspeakable awe at the life that emerges.

I do not want to pretend that everything that transpired over these past 50 years was perfect and without mistakes or poor choices. But what is clear to me is that the renewal that followed in the wake of the Second Vatican Council invited women and men, vowed religious and lay, to experience our faith in ways that both permeated and was shaped by a modern, pluralistic, democratic society.

The council document, Gaudium et Spes, invited the church to embrace the joys and hopes, the pain and suffering of the people of God and to be in the world and not stand apart. It “opened the windows” of an institution that had been nailed shut and freed the Spirit. In that invitation the official church echoed what Jesus did in his life when he “opened the windows” of the restrictive purity system that prevailed in his time and proclaimed in word and deed that everyone was welcome to the table and loved by God.

Women religious took that invitation seriously and, urged by the official church, undertook renewal. That was an act of great obedience. I know because I entered religious life in 1966 having grown up in Chicago in a Catholic enclave. Catholic defined every aspect of my life—Catholic schools, Catholic funeral parlors, Catholic sports teams, Catholic spirituality, the list goes on. The official church today would be very proud of who I was back then. I did not want things to change. I envisioned wearing a habit my entire life, living in a convent with a daily routine, teaching in schools. So when I entered and things began to change it was not an easy road for me; however, I obeyed and took seriously what I was being taught in our theology and philosophy classes.

Read the full article here.

Tim Reidy


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Michael Barberi
11 years 5 months ago
When the Church says that Catholics are obligated to submit mind and spirit to all Magisterium teachings, I think the hierarchy does not want Catholics to "think for themselves" but to simply obey and follow the sheppard. Unfortunately, we are not sheep.

It is indeed perplexing that Ratzinger-Benedict XVI believed in a "re-thinking" because the Holy Spirit continues to enlight us. We continue to gain knowledge from human experience, philosophy, anthropology, the sciences, scripture as well as moral theology. We continue to gains enlightment from prayer and the sacraments. However, in the same breath when the pope has spoken on a moral issue, there cannot be no further debate. It seems that only certain things are subject to a "re-thinking", those things determined by the Roman Curia. Even the judgment of our informed consciences can err, but not the Magisterium. So, we are assured of the truth and salvation through obediance to all Church teachings. 

To offer some sarcasim, what would the world be like today if all Catholics would adhere to this principle. Usury, slavery, the ends of marriage, freedom of religion and the torture of heretics would not have changed. At one time, popes, bishops and theologians taught for centuries that sex was only for procreation, sex during menstruation was a mortal sin, sex during pregnancy was forbidden and sex had only one licit position (Noonan). 

Thank God for re-thinking.

Clarita Trujillo
11 years 4 months ago
It is a great article by Sister Nancy.  America did the Church a great service by carrying this article.  It show how faithful the Religious have been to the Church when it is truly the people of God.  I hope that more articles of this nature get printed.
11 years 4 months ago
I resonate totally with Nancy Sylvester's reflections ... as with many vowed religious, both women and men, my 54 years in religious life have been an on-going gift, challenge, and mystery. 
Tim O'Leary
11 years 4 months ago
I read Sr. Nancy’s full article. I can agree with her first sentence: “The bishops are right”. It goes downhill thereafter - how disobedience is an act of obedience, and how democracy and quantum physics, evolution and cosmology can make ethical wrongs right. I think she is channeling Barbara Marx Hubbard.

Sr. Nancy writes about being moved by a spirit. I am sure she would agree that discernment is required with all spirits. If the spirit is moving one away from the Church and into sin and injustice (such as abortion and homosexuality, into infidelity and immorality), then it cannot be from God.  Anyone who has an inkling of how evil spirits work (read CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters if you want a popular introduction) will know that he/she will use any pretext (sexism, patriarchy, feminism, liberation, liturgical experimentation, etc.) to sow division, fear and anger. You reap what you sow.

From Saint Paul: Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8)
Kathleen Hebbeler
11 years 4 months ago
Great article, Nancy.  Thanks for sharing it. Thanks to America for printing it.
Tim O'Leary
11 years 4 months ago
Wouldn't it be refreshing to have one grow in the Spirit without showing any prejudice or antagonism to the successors of the apostles? How does one live the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience by pulling down the people appointed by Christ to keep the faith for His faithful? The doors and the windows of the Church are still wide open to anyone with an open heart and mind.

Take, Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, understanding, my entire will.
Give me only Your love and Your grace, that's enough for me.
Your love and Your grace, are enough for me.

- adapted by Fr, Foley from St. Ignatius Prayer
Kay Satterfield
11 years 4 months ago
In reference to the previous post, it seems to me that there is a real discrepancy as to what a person's definition of 'Church' is for him/her.  For some the definition is clearly a focus on church hierarchy, ie pope, bishops, etc.  For those like the nuns who embraced Vatican II it is a focus on Church as the people of God.  Sr Nancy Sylvester writes "The council document, Gaudium et Spes, invited the church to embrace the joys and hopes, the pain and suffering of the people of God and to be in the world and not stand apart."  I think those whose experience is of working with the faithful on the ground have a definition and perspective and experience of church that was called for by this important church document.

Also, I would never presume to know what the will of God is for someone else. However, you can look at the work being done by the majority of our nuns and see the good fruit of it.  This work is surely guided by the Holy Spirit. 

The Church is not a stagnant organization that never changes. 
Margaret Malsam
11 years 4 months ago

WE NEED STRONG  LEADERSHIP  and  our  thanfully religious sisters have been giving us this leadership. They should be praised-not criticized. They have not become stagnant.  Our Church cannot become stagnant or we become lukewarm-like those the Lord would like to spit out.
Blessed Pope John Paul XXIII opened a door to energize our beloved Catholic Church, but ikt seems the door has ben slowly closing the last 50 years.  For example, the hierarchy in many places  have been encouraging Latin Masses  which I feel is a serious step backward.  I don't think Bl. John Paul XXXIII would approve.

We must pray for discernment as to where we want to lead and prioritize our energy. I think Pope Benedict,, in criticizing the religious sisters, is  asking this question  of all priests,  nuns and layity. "Should we focus on social justice or the sanctity of human life? "  We  need to do both, but  which comes first on our list.   I perosnally think we must intensify our efforts to  respect all human life.  It seems in the U.S. that there is so much emphasis on respect for animal life.  Many times our pets have a better life than our abused children.  How can we have true social justice if we don't put human life FIRST.
Tim O'Leary
11 years 4 months ago
Margaret #17
I think you meant Blessed Pope John XXIII, who commenced Vatican II. But, you could also have meant Blessed Pope John Paul II, who played a major role in composing Gaudium et Spes, so praised above, and who, by his long papacy, assured the enduring impact of Vatican II, correctly understood.

I think it is more inclusive to permit Latin mass along with the vernacular, and Latin has the added benefit of holy beauty and continuity with Tradition. I would also welcome inclusion of the original Greek mass for those who wish it (the common liturgical language of Christians, at least up until Pope Victor I introduced Latin mass in the 2nd Century).

I agree completely on the importance on human life rights, the foundation of all our bodily rights, just as religious freedom is the foundation of our spiritual rights.
Beth McCormick
11 years 4 months ago
Excellent article.  Couldn't be clearer or more accurate  to the historical reality.Thanks for putting this before the readers of America.  Hope it gets even wider circulation. 
Beth McCormick O.P.
Amy Ho-Ohn
11 years 5 months ago
When I hear somebody say he's "obedient to the Magisterium of Holy Mother Church" I immediately lose any respect. It's just a pompous way of saying he likes to denigrate women but is too chicken to do it without making sure he can run and hide in the Pope's skirts if anybody objects.

Men who are entire human beings don't cluster together for unearned praise, status and privileges. They're not members of some ontologically superior wizardry club, but just of plain old stinky, mortal, fallible humanity.
Clare D'Auria
11 years 4 months ago
Thank you, Nancy, for representing so well both women religious in the United States and our story of renewal.
Kay Boemer
11 years 4 months ago
My deepest thanks to Sister Nancy Sylvester for her reflection.
It has put into a cogent whole my own journey although it's that of a lay person.  
But even more importantly, her efforts and those many other women religious are
a beacon of hope.  I pray they find the strength to continue to speak their truth. 

Kay Boemer July 8, 2012 
Mary Stadler
11 years 5 months ago
What a great article that clearly expresses how most women catholics feel!
Kay Satterfield
11 years 5 months ago
I agree with Mary, great article!  Like Jesus, women religious have been striving to meet people where they are at.  They are following God's will for them in serving the people of God.  

Sister Nancy Sylvester stated "Women religious have changed, not only in the United States but throughout the world."  That is one fact that hasn't been explored as to why the Vatican is addressing concerns for only American women religious. As someone who has spent a number of years abroad I think that globally all Cathoic women religious have experienced the same sentiments as expressed by Sr. Sylvester.   

In a postive light, change will not happen unless the issues are brought to the table.  America women religious like Sr. Sylvester, Sr Simone Campbell, Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, etc ,etc are the prophets of our time and of our church.  We have to pray that there will be a spirit of listening among the Church's hierarchy.  In the end it's not about a power struggle but about as Sr. Sylvester writes about how to best serve the people of God.
Matthew Pettigrew
11 years 5 months ago
If people would remember to use their first and last names, as required by the Comments Policy, perhaps their comments would receive more respect. Or maybe not.
Joe Kash
11 years 5 months ago

I wish obedience was the easy way out.  My experience with obedience is anything but a feeling of running and hiding.  When faced with the choice of doing something that you feel is the better way versus being obedient to authority, humble submission feels more like being still, naked and exposed.  It is a very humbling experience.

If obedience was the thing for chickens to do then I would expect the majority of us ''chickens'' to have no problem with obedience.  Instead it seems to me that obedience is very rare.

So enjoy that apple if that is what your conscience tells you to eat!

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