Early this year the general congregation of the Society of Jesus took place in Rome. We all hoped that it might mark a turn around for this once great order and a recommittment to the intention of their founder that they “think with the Church”. Alas, despite pleading from Cardinal Rode (prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life) and from the Holy Father himself, they remained determined to continue to head down a path the path of discontinuity and rupture.
Well, there has been a big meeting in the States on “Apostolic Religious Life since Vatican II … Reclaiming the Treasure: Bishops, Theologians, and Religious in Conversation”, and two papers from this meeting are of especial interest.
One is from Sister Sara Butler, she of “The Catholic Priesthood and Women” fame, and also current observer at the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican. Her address was entitled “Apostolic Religious Life: A public, ecclesia vocation”. While she is addressing the situation in the Religious Orders since Vatican Two, her paper is in fact applicable to all Catholics. In this sense, the religious communities are akin to the “canary in the coal mine” – but I think we are far beyond the canary stage by now – we can all smell the gas…
Sister Butler gets into the swing about half way through her talk when she discusses the “opposition” that has grown up between “Commitment to Social Justice and the Direct Proclamation of the Gospel”. She goes on to address “Competing Ecclesiologies” and “Polarization: Hierarchically-Structured Church vs. Discipleship of Equals”. Check this out:
We have no reason to promise obedience to God unless we believe that the person who exercises authority does so in his name. If we accept the authority of the hierarchy we do have reason to do this because we understand that the authority the religious superior exercises “proceeds from the Spirit of the Lord” through the hierarchy, that is, because the Bishop or the Holy See “has granted canonical erection to the institute and authentically approved its specific mission.” We accept the authority of the hierarchy — its teaching authority and jurisdiction — because we believe that Jesus Christ entrusted his ministry to them. This is part of our faith in the Church as the unique mediator of salvation. This is what justifies our decision to imitate the saving obedience of Jesus by surrendering our wills to another whom we confidently believe mediates God’s will to us.
Her best line, one worth remembering, in the whole address is her suggestion that “the crisis of “followership” is just as problematic as the crisis of leadership”. As Brian Coyne never tires of pointing out, “Sentire Cum Ecclesia” is precisely about addressing the crisis of “followership”.
Once you have finished with Sister Butler’s paper, you can go on to read Cardinal Rode’s own address “Reforming Religious Life with the Right Hermeneutic” – it is no less to the point than his call to the Jesuits back in January.