The Best and Brightest
Re: “Confessions of a Modern Nun,” by Ilia Delio, O.S.F. (10/12/09): Let us applaud the wonderful, faithful, loyal women who entered convent life during the 1950s and 1960s—the best and brightest group of women that the Roman Catholic Church has ever seen.
Mary B. Jennings
Monmouth Beach, N.J.
Thank you, Sister Ilia, for the insightful article. The yin and yang of religious life that emphasizes the “God and I” dimension versus the “Neighbor and I” dimension are indeed complementary parts of the whole. Because few are able to attain a true balance, active and contemplative types of religious life have developed.
Regarding habits: I went to a Catholic grammar school run by the Sisters of Mercy during the time of the Second Vatican Council. As a young child I was frightened of the nuns in full habit, with their rosaries clacking against the rulers in their hands ready to swat any youngster who got out of line.
As the reforms of the council came into being, the same nuns shed their Darth Vader-like attire to wear a modified habit that looked more like a uniform with a cross or crucifix to let the beholder know that they were Catholic sisters. The change in habit seemed to change their demeanor, and I was able to relate to them as teachers rather than strictly scary disciplinarians.
Getting It Right
If you want a good example of authentic incarnation in religious life, look to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Like everything else in the world, when you do something you have to get it right. Mother Teresa got it right. As far as I know, the Missionaries of Charity are not suffering a crisis in vocations.
Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Cold, Sad, Respectful
Sorry Sister Ilia, but I completely disagree with your opinions. I fear you and many American nuns have tragically made the wrong choice. You have lost today’s children, the convents, the schools and the presence in the nation’s culture. Much of what you say is quite pleasant and positive, but the truth is that your philosophy has taken that which was stone and made it a temporary impression in the sand.
I say this with sorrow and profound respect for you and all the nuns of our church who have lost their past. I believe the numerical data will soon erase you from our church. Can’t you see something is wrong? Today’s young women are drawn to your competition in the “traditional” orders. They are creating the foundation of the future, which will one day really resemble what your sisters deserted in the late 20th century.
I admire your faith and service, but the path of so many American orders just leaves me cold and sad. I am grateful I was a young Catholic child taught and loved by the sisters.
When a hungry hand reaches out for bread, it matters not whether the helping hand wears a black robe or a T-shirt. What matters is that the hungry person is fed. The wimple of a habit-wearing nun, or the hoodie of a sister from the Bronx mean just as little to God. But what means everything is love, as in the Beatles’ song, “Come Together.” That is my advice.
It seems to me that the religious in the United States should be honest, opt out of the religious life and become members of a secular institute—the way of life they are living. I am not sure that what Sister Ilia is talking about is anything new. It is the way of secular institutes, which the church recognized decades ago and incorporated into canon law. My word to Sister Ilia is simply: Be honest and convince your congregation and other such congregations to become secular institutes. Then there will be no reason for the present visitation.
(Rev.) Ronan Kilgannon
Kangaroo Valley, N.S.W. Australia
Kangaroo Valley, N.S.W.
Sister Delio, your habit, a priest’s collar or the robes of a monk have more power and influence than you can know, and were a large part of at least the emotional side of my Catholic conversion. Considering I am a common man, it must be true that this has been the same, on a conscious or unconscious level, for many others. It is simple and true in all human societies that uniforms are like icons, and without them our world is less easy to navigate. Police officers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, military and the like are all there to help and, yes, even “save” us. All are readily recognized by their uniforms. We all feel a little more physically safe and secure because of their visibility.
With religious, there is a certain spiritual safety and security in your presence. This is a visceral, nonintellectual reaction in all of us. While your profession is known to you and can be seen in your work and words, it cannot be seen when you are sitting in a bus station. When a young person like I was sees a sister “in habit” on the street, in a hospital or even at a social event, it sparks the imagination and curiosity. From a nonreligious Protestant family, I simply knew that sisters were something special and were there to help people in some way, like doctors and police officers.
I’m afraid you and other religious undervalue the impact you have by just being there in a recognizable way. Without my childhood exposure to the habit, I seriously doubt that I, my wife, my children and grandchildren would be traveling the Catholic path today.
Superiority Over God
Re “Looking for Love,” by M. M. Hubele (10/5/09): What a challenging reflection! It brought to mind the disconcerting words of Simone Weil: “A victim of misfortune is lying in the road, half-dead with hunger. God pities him but cannot send him bread. But I am here and luckily I am not God. I can give him a piece of bread. It is my one point of superiority over God” (First and Last Notebooks). The provocative question is, When will we get it?
(Rev.) John Pesce
West Hartford, Conn.
I certainly agree with the crux of the argument by Donald Moore, S.J. (“When Silence Is Betrayal,” 10/12/09) regarding the responsibility of Israel for the current plight of the Palestinians in Gaza. I, too, fault the role of the Zionist political movement in expanding Israeli settlements into Palestinian lands, realizing that such expansions are the death knell for any hopes of a self-sustaining Palestinian economy. Israel’s actions here are without a doubt reprehensible.
But I also believe that the role of Hamas in this affair merits more than the five sentences Father Moore dedicates to it. A political organization that dedicates itself to the extermination of a nation, that represses its own population and hides behind the innocent while launching rockets into civilian areas with the sole intent of killing civilians, and ignores the plight of its people while allowing terrorism to flourish within its midst deserves more than five sentences saying that Hamas is by no means innocent. The Palestinian situation in Gaza is critical. But the solution to the problem here goes far beyond nonviolent protests, fasts, sanctions and boycotts. What’s next?
Let’s start spreading responsibility for this human disaster around a little. Let’s devote more than five sentences to those who share responsibility.
Judging the situation in Israel seems to make for great armchair analysis. How many of us in the United States or Canada can really judge Israel’s actions fairly? How many have lived with the fear of rocket attacks and suicide bombers almost daily and in a place where all your immediate neighbors would prefer to see you dead than alive? The only taste we have had of that in recent memory is 9/11, and as a result of that we are in a war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
All this pontification is rich coming from the sons and daughters of European settlers who forcibly moved North America’s original people into little ghettos or wiped them out when they became a nuisance. The day the critics of Israel are ready to do a full mea culpa for those sins and then hand back all the land they have stolen (including their own homes), then I’ll listen. But for most of those critics those crimes are ancient history.