Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, October 20

Recently I was hearing confessions for the students at St. Dominic Savio High School in North Austin. I heard confessions in a hallway outside the gym while the students had Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the gym. As I was getting ready the students came in accompanied by their teachers, including a couple of nuns, Dominican     Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. It is a relatively new religious community that came to Austin only in 2008. In the ecclesiastical scheme of things, not that long ago. Two things struck me about the Sisters. First, they were in full habit, with full veils on their heads, flowing white dresses to the floor, and girdled round by a big rosary.  It was a vision very much out of my childhood in the 1950’s. The second thing that struck me is that they were all younger than me.  Usually women religious in this country are not.

Just recently we received the sad news that the Daughters of Charity are leaving Austin. The Daughters have been here in Central Texas a long time, with a most enviable record of service, but they are aging and their numbers are dwindling. Meanwhile, the     Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist are growing as a community, indeed exploding. Their primary ministry is     teaching in Catholic schools, a work as traditional as their habit. They came here just five years ago, but already they have acquired a piece of property in Georgetown of over 60 acres. In addition they have already received donations of $13 Million toward their $30 Million goal of building a new Priory (a large convent) for 120 Sisters with a large chapel. 120 is a lot of Sisters in these days, but they are growing community, so as the Daughters of Charity (and the Paulists, I might add) decline the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, increase. I am left wondering what is going on. Where will it all end? What does it all mean?

For the Catholic Church in the modern world is the way forward re-appropriating practices and structures from the past (such as    distinctive religious habits) that mark us as different, set us apart, visibly show our dedication to God? I remain skeptical. I fear that instead of speaking to the modern world in terms it can apprehend and understand it will have the effect of separating and isolating us, making us into less of a “Sacrament of Salvation” for the whole world and more of a cult.

There was a fascinating article by Russ Douthart in the Sunday New York Times of October 6, 2013, entitled The Promise and Peril of Pope Francis. I often disagree with Mr.Douthart, but this time I believe he was right on. He compared Pope Francis’ situation to New York Jews, where there has been growth among the ultra-orthodox who wear distinctive clothes and separate themselves as much as possible from the multi-cultural life of New York around them and a fading away of all other forms of Judaism in New York. Mr. Douthart poses the question: Can an ancient faith (Judaism or Christianity) speak convincingly to the modern world or survive only by withdrawing from interaction with the outside world, withdraw into itself and become a cult? Mr. Douthart wrote:

“And this is where Pope Francis comes in, because so much of the excitement around his pontificate is a response to his obvious desire to reject these alternatives—self-segregation or surrender—in favor of an almost-frantic engagement with the lapsed-Catholic, post-Catholic and non-Catholic world. … Francis’s style and substance are pitched much more aggressively to a world that often tuned out his predecessors. His deliberate demystification of the papacy, his digressive interviews with outlets secular and religious, his calls for experimentation within the church and his softer tone on the issues—abortion, gay marriage—where traditional religion and the culture are in sharpest conflict: these are not doctrinal changes, but they are clear strategic shifts.”

How does Pope Francis think and believe we as a Church should move forward? Not by avoidance but by engagement.

As a Paulist I believe the Church must engage the modern world. That is the command of Christ, to preach to all nations. A church that chooses to be a ghetto is not in any way catholic. We have no choice but to go forward in engagement with the world. It will       certainly be interesting to see how this will all play out. Please pray for the Daughters of Charity, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, and the Paulists.

God bless!



  1. So when the Pope starts wearing designer suits and the aging habit-free nuns somehow engage the world in a language it can understand (perhaps self-absorption and loneliness), all will be well? I think having young passionate religious who don't try to "fit in" yet offer an example and direct message of hope and deep joy is having precisely the effect that God intended. It shocks and contradicts what the world is feeding young people and it challenges them to reconsider their definitions of happiness and their very meaning and purpose. The new orders in the Church (and some grand old ones) are how God is choosing to spread His word. I pick His plan over your dated cynicism and I will seek out some of these young nuns to pray for your joy to increase and your heart to grow enough sizes to welcome them fully into our beautiful Church. :) Peace Father.

  2. With all due respect Father, the results are speaking for themselves. The train wreck of the 60s and 70s resulted in the decrease of religious vocations and regular Mass attendance. While the way forward is not backwards, returning our religious to their roots and showing people piety and respect and love for our traditions is the way to grow.

    It reminds me of so many Deanery meetings I attended where the older priests would ask what can we do to increase Mass attendance while the younger ones would answer "Be Catholic". The fact that you think more traditional Catholicism is a "cult" is troubling.

    To me and many others (the ones actually attending Mass, feeding the poor, visiting the sick and imprisoned) when we see a nun in traditional wear or a priest in a cassock what we see is someone who says I believe in and live my vocation totally and it challenges us to believe and act in ours. When I see nuns (usually 60+) or priests in "street clothes" I do not see lower barriers to communication I see someone who wants to "fit in" more than help me encounter Christ.

    God Bless

  3. 1. You yourself admit you're a member of a dying community, so I'm not sure what right you have to comment. They're obviously doing something right, and these dying orders are doing something wrong.
    2. Your logic is boilerplate liberal. You see the religious habit and decide they are disengaged from the world, a monumental non-sequitur. You clearly have not read St Paul "In the world but not of the world"--a precept these good sisters have taken to heart.
    3. Why don't you ask the REAL question that should be asked of Christians: Do they love one another, and those to whom they minister in the world?

  4. Traditional habits and traditional Catholic teaching does not equal ghetto. People are more inclined, not less, to approach religious in traditional garb, if simply because they recognize who they are and what and Whom they represent. This is exactly what it is to be in the world but not of it.