Patricia McCann, R.S.M., has provided an excellent, sweeping overview of what has happened to religious life among women religious in the United States since the Second Vatican Council (Catholic Identity, New Age and Women Religious, 7/21). Her knowledge of history is undoubtedly what made possible her judicious synopsis of the decline of religious life, arguably one of the most confusing phenomena in the postmodern world and one that has plagued the church to the present day. Indeed, what will happen to religious life, that rich gift to the 19th- and 20th-century American Catholic Church?
Of particular interest to me is Sister McCann’s willingness to admit the degree to which New Age action and perspectives have invaded the life and thinking of so many active religious congregations today. This is an honest and correct observation, yet it is ignored as a major reason for the obvious problems within congregations and the consequent decline in religious vocations. If not accepted by religious sisters as occasioning points of confusion, it has certainly not been understood by our lay sisters and brothers.
Here is where I wish that Sister McCann had been more emphatic. She says, for example, that we were not yet ready to focus on an evaluative analysis of these changes and suggests, Now it is time for a dialogue between Catholic faith tradition and New Age thought. To my mind, it is time for dialogue to give way to action. It is time for women religious to recognize that a certain New Age secularity has taken priority, one that must be re-evaluated in terms of its consequences for the future of religious life.
In this time of diminishment and mounting secular ridicule, it is time to face the larger questions Sister McCann also poses. The first question she suggests could alone set us all on the path we need to considernamely, Is faith in God made manifest in Jesus and articulated through the Catholic Church and its theological tradition still our core reality? My hope is that the challenge Sister McCann presents in her insightful article will not be left unexamined by today’s women religious.
Dolores Liptak, R.S.M.
West Hartford, Conn.
I very much enjoyed reading Of Many Things by Dennis M. Linehan, S.J., in the Aug. 4 issue and his kind words regarding the medical profession. As a recently retired physician, I came to be increasingly aware of the growing cynicism and mistrust of the general public toward the medical profession in the latter years of my career. I can assure you that the vast majority of physicians take the Hippocratic Oath very seriously and try our best to live up to it. And yes, we do need everyone’s prayers and appreciate them very much.
Michael J. Weaver, M.D.
I found Marital and Ecclesial Commitment, by Richard R. Gaillardetz, (8/4) inspiring as well as enlightening. In the best marriages I am familiar with, both partners exhibit that free embrace of limits that Gaillardetz commendsliving creatively with both their own and their partner’s limits. These couples demonstrate that it is possible to encounter the divine in an authentic (which means blessedly imperfect!) living out of the human. The vows are not for show, but serve as touchstones to help the partners renounce, daily, the seductive powers of evil.
Christian marriage is an invitation to discover the truth of the incarnationnot the idea of it, but the living experience of it. So of course there is a lot we can learn from good marriages about remaining faithful to an imperfect church.
I have often preached on the easiest day to be married: the wedding day. They look good...smell good...have a great meal prepared often by others...get great gifts and have countless family and friends around telling them how wonderful they are. The real marriage begins when you wake up with bad breath...the dog throws up...the toilet leaks...the mortgage payment is late...your mother-in-law dies...your sister is in a nursing home...the car breaks down...and the kids are screaming! What a great article by Richard Gaillardetz (8/4)! If marriage is to succeed, the couples need support of family, friends, church community and of course God. We know God will be there...but will we be? Let’s hope so, for their sake.
(Rev.) Bill Lugger
Sense of Wholeness
Many thanks to Michael Sherwin, O.P., for the splendid article Jazz Goes Back to Church (8/4). In August 1995 I was thrilled to be part of the Berkshire Choral Festival performance of the Pange Lingua Variations and To Hope! A Celebration. The event was honored by the presence of Dave Brubeck and his quartet, playing both their own improvisations in the Mass and also selections from his inimitable jazz. Of course Take Five brought down the house. It was simply one of the most exciting musical evenings I can remember.
Dave Brubeck himself has said that he felt a strong sense of wholeness and affirmation after completing his Mass. And what a work of genius and inspiration it is! I hope that some of your readers will be able to experience the tremendous power of this work for themselves, which brings the text of the Mass to life in such a special way.
Phyllis L. Townley
New York, N.Y.
Regarding posture after Communion (Signs of the Times, 8/4): as Joan Rivers would say, Pahleeze! Why do we have cardinals, bishops and who knows how many priests and others of the faithful concerned as to the appropriate posture one must assume following reception of Communion? We have a world at war, AIDS, sexual abuse of our children, and we have people who should know better than to ask (or worse, answer) how we should conduct our backbones after receiving the body and blood of Our Lord. Do we think it makes a difference to Our Lord if we stand, sit, kneel or twitch following Communion with him? I don’t presume to know the answer, but if I understand even a little bit of his message in the Gospels, his concern was that we believe and affirm our belief in love, not how we look doing it. The church really should have more important concerns to address. America should have more important things to print, and, yes, I should have more important things to grouch about.
Lake Almanor, Calif.
I read the paragraph in Signs of the Times on May 26 telling of the tragic death of the Rev. Raphael Ngona by the Lendu militias. He tried to alert the world in April to what was happening in Bunia, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rival factions are engaged in a bloody civil war in Bunia. They are backed by the neighboring states of Uganda and Rwanda. Since then, two more priests have been killed, along with 48 people who took refuge at their parish.
The fighting in the Ituri region is between the Lendu and the Hema factions. But many of the civilians whose bodies have been mutilated were not members of either group. They were peaceful Mbuti people. The Mbuti people, also known as pygmies, are the forgotten people in the conflict. They are quiet victims of this struggle for power.
This struggle comes at a time when the pygmies have been uprooted as they watch their land plundered by the Congolese state, neighboring countries and multinational corporations. Land is often set aside for tourism, where they are not allowed to live, gather honey and medicinal plants, hunt or practice sacred ceremonies. The indigenous people are not consulted as they watch their land’s natural resources exploited for timber, diamonds and gold.
America came the day after I attended the N.G.O. Forum on Indigenous Peoples held at the United Nations in New York. I ate lunch with Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of the Mbuti people with the organization Support Action for the Protection of the Rights of Minorities in Central AfricaD.R.C. He recommends that the United Nations become more actively involved in the protection of the civilian populations in the Congo in general and the vulnerable Bambuti communities in particular.
Efforts are underway to establish a multinational force. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is appealing to member countries to send soldiers to help restore order. Two U.N. peacekeepers were killed in May. An estimated 50,000 people have fled into dangerous uninhabitable areas south of Bunia.
My deep interest comes from 10 years in North Kivu as a missioner. We in the United States cannot be indifferent to what is happening there.
Jane Quinlan, O.S.U.