Nunsense, Redux

Latin Mass Magazine – Christmas 2012

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the next few weeks, because the Nuns on the Bus may be rolling into your neighborhood. Nuns on the Bus? It is a project of Network, a nun’s group which lobbies for “social justice” (read: Leftist causes, with special emphasis on the Catholic Church’s oppression of its members, especially women). Before going any further, these are not your father’s nuns. Oh no, these nuns are slightly to the left of Jane Fonda. In fact, don’t think you’ll spot them on the street, they are unspottable. Back in the seventies these gals decided the religious habit was a ball and chain that kept them vassals of the patriarchal Catholic Church. Moreover, habits had to go to better identify with the suffering masses smarting beneath the thumb of a capitalist first world. Finally disrobed, these ladies could take their place on the front lines of societal change, free of the straight-jacket of a God shamefully distorted by two-thousand years of Catholic lies. These Nuns on the Bus nuns saw it as their job to hasten the demise of an institution better left on the ash heap of history. Their attitude was deftly expressed by Gary Wills, in his 1970’s book, Bare Ruined Choirs, which he hoped would be the long-awaited obituary of the Catholic Church.

The church was enclosed, perfected in circular inner logic, strength distributed through all its interlocking aspects; turned in on itself, giving a good account of itself to itself – but so vulnerable, so fragile, if one looked outward, away from it. It had a crystalline ahistoricity; one though of change or time could shatter it – and did.

Wills was the Tom Paine of the radicalization of the Catholic Church, and these nuns were his willing Minutemen loaded for bear. Swinging their once-proud wimples and rosary beads over the heads like some tribe of Huns carrying the skulls of their victims, these emancipated nuns would teach the Catholic Church a lesson it would never forget. While hordes of them abandoned schools, hospitals, and cloisters, enough of them remained and, like Sherman’s March to the Sea, leveled everything Catholic in their path. It can safely be said without fear of contradiction that the ruin the Church faces today in every corner of its life is, in large part, the malignant fruit of their work. As effectively as the nuns of the nineteenth and first of half of the twentieth century gave the Catholic Church such glory, similarly effective has the Nuns on the Bus been in undoing that work and creating the numbing devastation the Church has endured in the last half century.

Let us return to Network. It is part of a wider conglomeration of progressive nuns called the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which has been the corporate battering ram of the radical Catholic agenda. It has had clear sailing for the past half century, challenged by no one in their scorched earth campaign. Until now. Several weeks ago, Pope Benedict XVI, through his Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, barked, No More. Well – the nuns were absolutely blindsided – and outraged. Top strategist Sister Simone Campbell, who spent the last eighteen years of her ‘religious life’ representing poor people at a community law center in Oakland, California, was not standing for this intrusion. In her words, “I’ve been a faithful religious woman for over forty years, and some guy who’s never talked to me says were a problem? Ooh, that huts.” Just in case you missed it, the “guy” Sister Campbell refers to is the Holy Father. Get the picture? We are looking at a group of “women religious” more hostile to the Church than the Church’s secular enemies.

Why is the Holy See making such a fuss? Could it be, in its communication with the LCWR, that the nuns have allowed “radical feminist themes” to permeate its meetings and hosted speakers who have espoused a “rejection of the faith” and “silence on abortion”? Yes, that could be it. Of course, that is only the tip of the iceberg. Add to that the Yale professor, Sister Margaret Farley, and her book Just Love, which mockingly rejects every aspect of the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. Oh yes, Sister Farley is seventy-seven and has been teaching and writing stuff like this for oh, forty years. Two months ago, the Holy See censured her, to the groans of the New York Times, Time magazine, and every self-respecting member of the liberal firmament. These punitive actions are of one piece with the overall strategy of Pope Benedict XVI.

The first part of the Benedictine reforms are principally liturgical, and rightly so. He is re-teaching the Church that the liturgy is impressive not expressive: its purpose is to impress man’s soul with the grace of Christ, so that, more and more, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me”. For too long, liturgy underwent a debasement insofar as it was seen as expressive: the vehicle for the individual (or a particular cultural/social group) to exhibit himself or his aspirations. The Mass versus populi (facing the people) captured this disorientation. As the Pope wrote when he was Cardinal, the Mass facing the people had deplorable effects:

Less and less is God in the picture… The turning of the priest to the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is closed in upon itself. The common turning toward the East… did not mean that the priest “had his back to the people”: the priest was not regarded as so important… A common turning to the East during the Canon remains essential… looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at Our Lord.

The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 80-81

The second and more crucial Benedictine reform is making religious about God again. The LCWR nuns, along with their allied priests and bishops, moved to take God out of religion. It was truly that dramatic. Pope Benedict strongly emphasizes that we don’t feed the poor as a social act, but as the way of carrying out God’s will. We don’t shelter the homeless because some have no home, but because Our Lord commanded us. We do all that we do for the maiorem Dei gloriam, not to make some political or social point.

Saint Catherine Drexel went to the black and Indian peoples not as a social justice cause, but as an act of oblation to her Divine Spouse. Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini did not go into the New York slums to care for immigrants to speak truth to power, she did it to please her Lord and King. Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton founded school after school not to meet some social need, but to bring the souls of the young to God. Saint Jean Jugan established an impressive network of homes for the aged because she saw the image of the Crucified in the elderly; and Blessed Mother Teresa carried the destitute poor in her arms, not as a protest against government inaction, but because she saw Christ her Master in the distressing guise of the poor.

Contrast this supernatural feast of love of God through love of neighbor with the shrill iconoclasm of the nuns of the LCWR. Compare that resplendent band of women saints, who drew strength from Christ Crucified and their vowed consecration, with the rogue guerillas of LCWR who feed off hatred of the Church and seek inspiration from Marx and Betty Freidan. Look at these women saints’ stunning good works, flowing from hearts utterly obedient to their beloved Mother Church, then look at the political lobbying and protest marches of the LCWR quickened solely by a frenetic loathing of all settled human and religious traditions.

So keep your eyes open for that Nuns on the Bus tour. Ans as those white-haired septuagenarians wave at you from their bus windows, know that you are seeing a fading, albeit tragic, chapter in our Church’s history. We are happy to see them limping into the sunset, but brokenhearted that countless souls were lost till they did.

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