in memory of Fr. William Brennan, S.J. 1920- 2014. A prophet for social justice and equality, including women’s ordination.
One of the most prized dishes in Chinese cuisine is called “The Monk Jumped Over the Wall.” It takes its name from the folk belief that the monk was unable to resist the aroma of this delicious dish as it was being cooked and jumped the wall in search of it.
Reading Jo Piazza’s If Nuns Ruled The World: Ten Sisters on a Mission, it is clear that the ten nuns featured in the book, and others like them, have been jumping over the wall too. Drawn by the needs of people who are hurting, these women have scaled the walls of patriarchy and prejudice and simply said: “Let’s go do it. “
They jumped the wall. And there’s no putting them back behind it.
Just ask Sr. Maureen Fiedler, an expert user of multiple media platforms. “After all, Jesus was a feminist, and we claim to follow him.”
One nun, though, has accepted being put behind bars for literally breaking through the fences around the nuclear facility in Oak Ridge,Tennessee. Sr. Megan Rice is unrepentant. And unfazed by clerical disapproval of the causes nuns have adopted.
“I don’t believe in excommunication,” she says, “because I don’t see the institutional Church as the real Church.”
How long before the institutional church understands that?
Jesus: An Equal Opportunity Employer
It’s sad to hear Pope Francis, who has inspired so much hope, still speak in stereotypes about the “feminine genius.” “The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion,” he says. To which Sr. Maureen Fiedler says: “Jesus is an equal opportunity employer.” She has the authority of Vatican II behind her: “any type of social or cultural discrimination based on sex is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent.”
How long before the bishops see what lay people see: the Gospel come alive in the community through the work the sisters do, usually unheralded. They are mending, always mending what Sr. Simone Campbell, an important champion of the Affordable Care Act, likes to call the “broken hearts” of those who live on the margins.
Perhaps the readings for this past Sunday September 21, 2014, offer a helpful reminder to the institutional church as it continues to assert the old and decry the new. People are grateful for the support they receive from the sisters as they struggle to raise children, make informed choices about their reproductive health, and gain some semblance of control over their lives. For years, Sr. Donna Quinn accompanied frightened women to health clinics, to shield them from jeering protestors. Today she continues to lobby for women’s reproductive autonomy. Sr. Tesa Fitzgerald helps women who are in prison sustain their connection to their children while they are inside and tackle the myriad hurdles they face when they come out. The effectiveness of her ministry, the “Hour Children,” is seen in the rate of recidivism for the women in the program: 3 percent versus 29 percent for women in New York.”
The bishops call this work radical feminism.
Piazza tells us about Sr. Jeannine Grammick’s pioneering LGBT ministry. That work of reaching out to LGBT Catholics who had felt shunned, celebrating the Eucharist with them and walking with them in their struggles prompted so much clerical harassment of her order that she chose to leave the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She then joined the Sisters of Loretto—where the bishops’ disapproval followed – but did not stop her.
The obstructionism of men in high places does not faze Sr. Nora Nash either. As Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for the Sisters of St. Francis, Sr. Nora publicly challenged Lloyd Blankfein on the ugliness of the fact that he—and other senior Goldman executives make more in one day than most workers make in a year. “In a way worthy of the gospel of Christ,” she charges right in as Jesus did among the merchants trading in the Temple, holding corporations accountable, introducing stockholder resolutions on wages, labor rights, child labor, predatory lending, fracking and more.
The conviction that the Divine is present everywhere is one that Sr. Madonna Buder embraces. This veteran of 366 marathons, 46 of them, Ironman events, insists, “There is no limit, no boundaries, to when and where you can commune with God.”
But limits there certainly are in the underworld of human trafficking. It is a world “so wounded, violent and stripped of hope,” that Sr. Joan Dawber did not want anything to do with it. Yet she has made providing safe houses for the victims of human trafficking her life’s work because she feels the “spirit of the Lord” calling her to “let the oppressed go free.”
Sr. Dianna Mae Ortiz herself survived rape and torture and rose above the horrors of her experience in Guatemala to establish the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC). She is haunted by her ordeal but she believes deeply that she was living the Gospel when she decided to stay on in Guatemala despite the death threats. Piazza reports her quietly saying that “on some level I took my place on what I refer to as a modern-day cross.”
Fastened to the thread while piercing the cloth
I read Jo Piazza’s book right after reading Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings. As the slave, Handful, contemplates the terrible risk of trying to escape from early 19th century Charleston, she draws on her mother’s wisdom: “You got to figure out which end of the needle you’re gon be, the one that’s fastened to the thread or the end that pierces the cloth.”
The sisters, it seems, have figured out how to be both.