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    A View from the Pew

    Nuns rock

    “What is it about nuns?” my son Tim asked. “You meet a group of them and spend some time in their company and you think that they’re the happiest and best people in the world.” I could not agree more.

    Perhaps you’ve been keeping up with the Nuns on the Bus tour as religious women travel across America to protest fiscal cuts for poor and working families passed by the House of Representatives. The proposed budget would end essential programs that sisters operate to assist the poorest of the poor.

    Maybe you’ve read about the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s opposition and censuring of Yale theologian and religious sister Margaret Farley 2006 book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. Within a week, the book spiraled to first place in religious studies book sales on Amazon sales rankings. Banning a book ensures its readership.

    Did you hear about the Vatican’s ban of Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ’s book Quest for the living God: mapping frontiers in the theology of God? Sr. Elizabeth is a professor of theology at Fordham and one of the most respected theologians and faithful religious women in the world. Nothing much.

    The Vatican’s recent call for reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an organization that represents about 45,000 nuns, included an appointment of three bishops to oversee the LCWR for up to five years. That prompted a support for American Catholic nuns that poured in from people of all faiths and opinions. Everyone from Award winner New York Times journalist Nickolas Kristoff to Mr. and Mrs. Everybody responded with astounding affirmation for the lives, the commitment, the labor and the spirit and courage of women’s religious communities. I profess that I am one of them. Nuns rock.

    Three women in my family were professed religious women. I attended Catholic elementary school, high school and college and educated by religious women. Their influence as some of the most brilliant and faithful educators helped to form me into the person I am today. All of the institutions that I attended were founded and operated by women religious. Some of my friends who belong to religious women communities include several who work in Third World countries, a superintendent of Catholic schools for a large Northeastern diocese, several teachers of English as a second language, a chaplain in a Boston trauma hospital, a several college professors and researchers, a prison chaplain, pastoral associates in parishes, directors of religious education, and principles and presidents in elementary, high school and college.

    Today, my husband Patrick, also a product of religious women in his elementary and high school years, and me felt privileged to attend the installation of my friend and spiritual director Rosemary Brennan, CSJ as she assumed her new role as president of CSJ Boston. Rosemary and six other religious women picked up the torch of leadership for the next six years. We prayed, sang, hoped and dared to dream with these visionary women who turned out by the hundreds with friends and supporters at Our Lady Help of Christians in Newton.

    Several aspects of today’s celebration struck me. Before the liturgy commenced, one of the sisters described the word ‘install.’  To inaugurate, to mount, and to establish all described the word. However, her final definition hit the nail on the proverbial head.  “Going crazy for a community is exactly what it means to serve a community in mission.” That sums up Christianity, in my opinion. What’s crazier than following a man who was condemned and murdered for daring to dream God’s reign here on earth? Yet, our baptism into the Christian faith plunges us directly into sacred mysteries that defy death, embrace charity and require us to face the cross of Christ at every turn. Crazy? You bet. Thrilling, isn’t it? And these women embrace the craziness of faith, hope and love better than anyone I know.

    Religious women do three things: they pray, they work and they network. They create a bridge of inclusiveness, welcome without distinction as they serve all people with generosity and faithful Christian koinonia. The presider who preached at today’s liturgy called John the Baptist, whose feast we celebrate today, the last great prophet between the old and the new. I beg to differ. Religious women speak and act as prophets of fire in this time and place. They act as the bridge between the old and the new, taking their cue from the founders who created particular charismas that define their communities and mission to generate change for the good here and now for the people of God.

    Sister Rosemary reflected at the liturgy’s end that a deepening solidarity among religious sisters past and present cultivates a contemplative anthropology of common sense yoked to distinctive Christian mission. Together with the people of God, religious women sojourn together on a faith expedition. We expect to meet resistance; read the gospels. But together, we can make a difference when we dare to dream, to be crazy for Christ in our hopes, our dreams, our ideas and our passions.

    The joy, prayer and enthusiasm in the church and reception could move a mountain. And that’s just what these sisters intend to do. With the conviction of their Christian mission to serve all people, particular those with greatest need, nuns rule. They inspire us to be a church of integrity, truth and justice, a ‘vault of grace’ as Marty Haugen writes in All Are Welcome, the gathering song at today’s liturgy. I am grateful to be a part of such invigorating prayer, practice and partnership to build the reign of God with these living stones of faith as they look back at their history that informs their mission ahead.

    Congratulations to the new CSJ Leadership team, to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston and to all who share in their mission to dream and dream big. I look forward to the journey.