I want you all to know that I feel appropriately guilty about fooling some folks with the April 1st post a bit more than I'd intended. :) If it gives anyone satisfaction, I got taken in like an idiot that day: I got to the lab in the morning and a co-worker convinced me that the boss wanted to see me in his office, even though I knew the boss never gets in before 1 PM and was away on business anyway!
I copied most of my April Fools' post verbatim from the websites of actual religious orders, as sad as that is. If you're wondering what's so wrong with that missions statement, the short answer is that its main focus is off God and on other things. If you'd like a longer explanation of my views, here's a fisk with the original April Fools' post in italics.
• "it seemed most of the religious congregations I talked to were pretty insular, with the nuns either confining themselves in a cloister..."
I would never denigrate the cloistered vocation; I think it's beautiful, important, highly practical, and not at all insular, because the nun intercedes for the whole world.
• "or just doing institutionalized works"
What a shallow mindset that "institutional" = "not worthwhile". The Catholic hospitals and orphanages and monasteries that have done so much to relieve suffering and preserve culture for fifteen centuries are all institutions.
• "basically assigned by the hierarchy as an extension of their agendas,"
That shows disdain for traditional religious orders and mistrust of the Catholic hierarchy, as if nursing the sick etc. is such a sinister agenda. It implies that traditional nuns are mere pawns of their bishops (Haha! Chess pun!)
As crazy as it sounds, there are a lot of Catholic religious sisters out there who actually seem to hate the teachings of the Catholic Church. It's a 60's thing. What they've done is drop their faith for left-wing politics. They do say their faith is very important to them, but the faith they're speaking of isn't the Catholic faith. I'm not trying to be insulting here. "Catholic" is a word that is not honorific but descriptive. It means something specific about one's beliefs, including beliefs about the nature and authority of the Catholic Church. These orders I'm talking about do not share those beliefs. And why be a Catholic nun if you don't agree with the Catholic Church?
• "After much discernment I realized I was looking for something entirely different, something that would enable me to go out into the world as a minister and preach freely in word and deed as Jesus' first itinerant followers did"
This isn't wrong except that it implies that traditional nun activities like nursing and teaching aren't going out into world and preaching in word and deed, whereas I think those are excellent ways of doing it. If what you want is to hit the streets and help the homeless, there are good faithful orders doing that too, like the Missionaries of Charity and the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal. What's funny is that the sister I copied these words from is a professor at the Jesuit school of theology in Berkeley. How is that going out into the world as a minister, if the other stuff isn't?
• "developing my unique gifts as a woman in service to those (often on the margins of society) who have been sorely neglected by the institutional church."
Again with the distrust and contempt of the Church. And yet the poor and neglected have been most likely to be helped by those at the heart of the church-- that was the exact purpose for which many of the existing religious orders were founded.
• "And I found all this in an order called the Dominican Sisters of Social Justice."
Social justice is a very good and important thing that's worth fighting for, and yet if an order of nuns talks a great deal about social justice, it usually means their politics have superseded their faith, and more often than not I don't agree with the politics. Do they defend innocent life from the moment of conception to natural death, or do they defend the right to abortion and euthanasia? People fight on both sides in the name of social justice.
• "The Dominican Sisters of Social Justice, impelled by the Gospel and outraged by the injustices of our day,"
I wouldn't join any order that puts "outraged" in the first sentence of a mission statement. Sometimes outrage is proper, but it still tempts you to hate the people you think are committing injustices, and I don't want an order that embraces the temptation. Anyway, to me it sounds a little self-righteous.
• "seek truth"
Very good, as long as they acknowledge that absolute truth does exist, and that to some extent at least it is knowable, and that the purpose of seeking truth is to find it and then live by it, and not just to have an open mind about everything forever.
• "make peace"
Sounds good, but I wonder: peace between whom and whom, and how do they propose to do it?
• "reverence life"
Again it's very vague. Are they just talking about a feeling?
• "Stirred by the Wisdom of God"
This is the only mention of God in the whole statement, and see how impersonal it is. There's no sense of loving Him, serving Him, worshiping Him, relying on Him, following His call, having any kind of personal relationship with Him at all. Just a proud little remark about how we have the spirit of Wisdom stirring within us. Ooooh...
• "we challenge heresies of local and global domination, exploitation, and greed that privilege some, dehumanize others, and ravage Earth."
Beautiful example of what I mean about substituting left-wing politics for religion. Are you not a good environmentalist? You heretic! But watch-- if the Catholic Church says you need to believe the truth about God or you're a heretic, these same sisters will be really mad at the Church for being so threatening and intolerant.
• "We confront our racist attitudes and root out racist practices in our lives and systems."
It's not that it's a bad thing, but I'm just not inspired to leave my old life behind and take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in order to devote my life to confronting my racist attitudes. See why these orders don't attract many new members?
Anyway I suspect they're not really worried about their own racist attitudes so much as condemning what they believe to be the racism of others. I admit I've no proof in this case, but it's a phenomenon I've seen before-- people repenting sins of which they're not personally guilty, in order to accuse others of sin without looking self-righteous.
• "We confront systems where women are denied freedom, equality, and full personhood."
I want to know what they think constitutes denying a woman her "full personhood". It sounds good but there's a good chance they've got a different definition than I do. I'm totally behind securing the rights of women in the third world, for example, but when you read the writings that come out of orders like this you see they're usually focused more on attacking the Church for not ordaining women as priests.
• "We walk in solidarity with people who are poor"
What does that mean? Do they actually meet with poor people, and feed them and talk to them and care for them? Or like cloistered nuns, do they fast and pray for them? Or do they not do anything? Some people substitute sentiment for real help, and then-- this is what's annoying-- they condemn others for not professing the sentiment.
• "We practice non-violent peacemaking."
I really want to know what the violent peacemaking looks like. That should be interesting. :)
• "We promote lay leadership and shared decision-making for a renewed Church."
NO. Absolutely not. This is where they tip their hands and show that they do not believe what the Church teaches about her nature and apostolic authority.
• "We live right relationships with Earth Community."
We come in peace, Earthlings! Take us to your leader! :)
• "We Sisters are also members of a United Nations Non-Governmental Organization that helps us advocate for the realization of the UN Millennium Development Goals."
I really did get this from a religious order's website. They don't say anything about fidelity to Church teaching, but UN teaching is another matter!
• "Here's a video of one of the creative liturgies celebrated by my new community."
That was a taken at a conference for Call to Action, a "Catholic" group that dissents loudly from Catholic teaching. It is literally impossible to parody. I've noticed that people with dissident theology usually have bad taste as well-- I don't know why the two go together, but they really do.
• "As a novice I'll be able to opt to take lessons in reiki healing, personality enneagrams, and liturgical dance!"
Reiki and enneagrams. The Church has spiritual classics like "Imitation of Christ" or "Introduction to the Devout Life", and the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, and the spiritualities of the different orders-- Carmelite contemplation, Dominican study, Benedictine work and prayer-- but some folks ditch all that for Reiki and enneagrams.
• "And although this isn't a deciding detail or anything, I really liked the habits worn by this congregation."
That habit is like a mullet: business on top, party down below! It combines the high neckline and veil of a modest nun with the short hemline of a flirt with great legs. Alas, it doesn't do justice to either aesthetic.
Now the problem with this post is that I go on about what's wrong and never say what I think would be right-- what does a good order look like? Alas, that's all the time we have today. :)