Yesterday had started with one of our regular Solidarity with Sisters meetings with LCWR staff. It's fallow time, with little or no LCWR mandate news. A close friend told me later that she had gone to the meeting wondering what our future together held. Was there anything we could do now for LCWR?
Yes, we're planning activities for early summer 2014, after Orbis Books publishes LCWR's magnificent book of presidential essays, to be titled Spiritual Leadership in Challenging Times. But some Solidarity with Sisters team members aren't involved in that effort, and they don't have specific work right now with LCWR.
Yesterday's meeting agenda was simple. What does our Solidarity with Sisters team know now about LCWR that we hadn't known when we began this journey together, in mid-2012?
We had proposed that topic with the thought that many of the thousands who rallied in May 2012 knew as little as we had about LCWR. Everyone knew sisters who had touched our lives. But LCWR itself? The organization that the bishops were appointed to "reform"? Not so much.
So we gratefully told Sisters Janet Mock, Annmarie Sanders, and Marie McCarthy (Sisters Grace Hartzog and Ann Scholz were elsewhere) that, until we spent this time with them, some splendid parts of LCWR had been invisible to us as active lay Catholics.
A major item is LCWR's way of spiritual leadership. Through decades of re-newal in response to changes in the world's needs, LCWR and its congregations have evolved a sophisticated, powerful, respectful way of leadership. It's built on deep spirituality, diverse community, the capacity to absorb violence instead of passing it on, the capacity to abide in watchful waiting for the Holy Spirit to show the next right step, and more. We want this way of spiritual leadership to become known! And used! It's radical. And it's important.
We also told the sisters what it means to us to walk in solidarity with them. Through these 18 months we've discovered how profoundly we are TOGETHER, equal partners, now friends. Our lifeforms are different but we are united in much deeper ways.
But, in fact, we'd told them these things before. We had more on our list to share, but not much new.
Then the sisters spoke.
They spoke of what it means to experience our solidarity during this difficult time. Some of us had quietly worried that we may have become a distraction from the important work that LCWR does, ranging from leadership formation and training, to the Assembly, to significant publications, to action against human trafficking. We had wondered if meeting with us has value to them.
The LCWR staff told us that we matter to them very much as companions on the long and difficult journey. They experience our time together as rich and important. They hope that we'll still be with them long past whatever end eventually comes to the Vatican mandate for LCWR reform.
Our group constantly asks ourselves if there is some public action we can take that will help LCWR to be known - by the Vatican and by everyone else - as the beacon that it is. And yet the sisters were telling us that our PRESENCE with them is what matters. EVEN WITHOUT PUBLIC ACTION, they value our friendship and solidarity.
That was a very precious early Christmas gift. It's one I treasure.
As a friend said afterwards, “I have to confess, I was wondering if they continued to meet with us more as a feeling of obligation, but to hear that they really value what we have to offer and share is just wonderful.”
The wonderfulness is also confidence that we are walking together in equality and a genuine solidarity, beyond just our group’s title. We feel and we intend solidarity with all women religious, but personal relationships deepen and enrich the experience. Could sisters and layfolks around the country also find mutual support and joy in coming together in person?
Frankly, women religious have a “wow” factor that may work against them.
Back at our first meeting, I was in awe. Quietly, courageously, and with unwanted publicity, LCWR leaders were embodying the gospel in the face of persecution. They were doing this through the strength of the Holy Spirit and the community of LCWR sisters all over the country. And here I was, 18 months ago, meeting them in person!
That sense of separateness has evaporated for me. But the deep respect in which layfolks hold women religious – does it create an artificial sense of separateness?
I suspect that the number of women religious who live on a pedestal is very close to zero. They often have deeper and more diverse friendships than most people.
As we appreciate LCWR and these specific women, they appreciate us. From our varied perspectives and with our varied knowledge and skills... with honesty and hope and care and equality... we and they help one another see ourselves both as we are and as we can become. We care for each other personally and in our various missions. We and they are together. And these sisters recognize their unity beyond us – with all who long for the future that God dreams for us.
As I drove home that day, reflecting on the day, the tears started to trickle. We are touching the kind of church everyone longs for: community that seeks to make our lives a prayer. It's mutually supportive, healthily challenging, and transforming.
The majesty of being fully present to each other informs “church.” Isn't that key to the mystery of Eucharist? Isn't it our birthright to be held in a sacred space, as we and LCWR do with one another?
The remarkable sisters at the LCWR offices aren't unique. And we women and men on the Solidarity with Sisters team aren't unique. Could sisters and layfolks around the country find similar richness by coming together? What could draw people to seek out the other's companionship and insight?
Would those groups also feel joy in a solidarity that is fueled by PRESENCE even more than by actions?