Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Oct. 18, 2009

Readings: Is 53:10-11; Heb 4:14-16; Mk 10:35-45

This is the second last of my homilies on recent church teachings on communities of vowed men and women. Above all, I want to make it clear what this upcoming Vatican visitation is all about. There’s been a tremendous amount of misinformation and confusion in the national media and even the Catholic press. First of all, we need to be clear that we are talking about two separate initiatives from the Vatican concerning women’s communities. Let’s call them initiatives A and B. Initiative A began with the intention of Pope John Paul II in the early 1990s to do something to encourage and support communities of vowed men and women in the Church. That officially began with the 1994 World Synod of Bishops considering the role of consecrated life in the Church. After which, following the Synod’s recommendations, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life began issuing instructions for applying the teachings of Vatican II to communities of consecrated life. That’s what I have basically been talking about these last three Sundays. The upcoming visitation of all communities of religious women is for support, encouragement and challenge. That’s initiative A.

Initiative B comes from an entirely different Vatican Congregation (the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) and is directed to a small select group, namely the leadership board of the LCWR. It is a disciplinary visitation, very different from a supportive and encouraging visitation. Five years ago the CDF sent a letter to the leadership board of LCWR instructing them to be more in line with current Vatican teaching in their conferences and policies, especially with regard to issues of the ordination of women and homosexuality. Now, five years later, the CDF has not detected any changes in the LCWR’s positions and policy statements. So, the CDF is coming to talk to them about this matter. That’s initiative B.

It’s very important to keep these two initiatives separate. Just this past week I read two terrible articles in the Catholic press. Both were written by sisters who were very angry at the Vatican for this visitation A. But both authors made a grave mistake. They assumed that initiative A was primarily disciplinary, to bring all the sisters into line with more conservative practices. But these documents from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life never mention that at all. The purpose of initiative A is to support, encourage and challenge.

Why is the Vatican doing initiative A? Because in the forty plus years since the council ended, there hasn’t been any updating in church documents on communities of consecrated life. These documents are giving formal church approval to the developments that have taken place in communities. That’s why all these things that I’ve been talking about, you can say "We’ve been doing all that"—dialogue, discernment, co-responsibility, ongoing formation, clarifying the community charism, superiors as listeners, and so on. So now the Vatican is saying, "Right. We approve of all that." Because those things have never been formerly approved before in Vatican documents. Now they have been.

Why did the Vatican choose sisters in the United States? They didn’t say. But if I had to make an educated guess I would say it’s because you are the easiest group to do. You are further along in implementing these issues than anyone else. Next week I will look at a number of challenges that these documents do have for communities of consecrated life to sharpen what has begun.

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