Pretty much staying out of this whole LCWR thing, for my own sanity. If you want to read something intelligent about it, try the Anchoress. Here’s just a little personal story:
Like so many Catholics, I had a front-row seat to the spectacle of the effective dissolution of several religious orders – in my case, the Sisters of Mercy, out of Burlingame, CA. About the time I was born, one of my older sisters joined that order – circa 1959. At that point, the Mercy Sisters were a large, flourishing order running numerous schools and hospitals. They wore a full-on head-to-toe habit like the one on the left in this picture:
When I was a small child, the family would drive up to Burlingame to visit my sister – it was an amazing experience for me, as little more than a toddler, to walk about in what seemed like a sea of long skirts peopled by cheerful young women – that’s the picture I have still in my mind.
Then, when I was around 10, things began to change. As a little boy, I knew nothing about the back story, I just saw that the sisters dressed differently. Every time I saw them after that, they had shed more of the habit. By the time I got out of high school, my sister asked me to help her coach her grade school girl’s basketball team – she had gone into teaching, and had become principle of a Catholic school in the LA area. By then, there was little to distinguish a Sister of Mercy from any other somewhat conservative working women with poor taste in clothes.
Within a few years, my sister had left the order, like so many of her peers. Unlike too many of them, she didn’t just stop playing dress-up while continuing to live off the gifts given to the Sisters over the years – she left left, like went and got a job.
My sister was a poor lost soul – she had gone into the order as a teenager, grew up there, and then, when it dissolved around her, found herself basically a teenager in her late 30s. Rather than having a career or a family, she was stuck wondering what to do with her life, and, like a child, wanted to do something exciting and different, not realizing, at first, that the world is not too kind to lost souls. She also wanted a man to fall for her, sweep her away, again, not realizing, at least, not on the emotional level, how unlikely that was to happen.
Finally, as she entered her 40s, she came down with cancer, fought it off, had a recurrence, and died at 46. She was terrified to die. While our family was there through all this, in some sense she died all alone – at least, whatever companionship we offered didn’t seem to be enough or the right kind.
Maybe I could make some sort of poignant metaphor out of this, but to me, it’s just a personal story. But it is the lens through which I see the whole issue. I feel now like my sister was in some sense betrayed – that she, a timid but good soul, would have lead a better, more fulfilling life had the order reinforced and supported her decision to become a Bride of Christ, to fulfill a vocation of teaching, and to die in the arms of her Order and her Sisters. Instead, she died alone in some cosmic sense, with all those women she had intended to be a Sister to questioning and, ultimately, disparaging the very life she had chosen, and nowhere to be seen.
Maybe I’m kidding myself. We’ll never know.