In NCR's Global Sisters Report (5/8), Sister Ilia Delio, distinguished professor and Director of Catholic Studies at Georgetown University, addresses Cardinal Muller's concern. Her article "Renewing the conversation between faith and science," puts Muller's concern in context of the historical nourishment of faith that comes through reflection on insights from science. With renowned Jesuit Father Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), she defines conscious evolution as integral to who we are. Teilhard wrote, "We are the universe become conscious of itself"; we are homo sapen sapien, the ones "who know that we know." Delio notes, "Teilhard described the process of evolution as fundamentally a rise in consciousness"; because of our consciousness, "we are co-creators of an unfinished evolutionary process." She quotes extensively from Saint John Paul II, e.g.: "Might not contemporary cosmology have something to offer to our reflections upon creation? Does an evolutionary perspective bring any light to bear upon theological anthropology, the meaning of the human person as the imago Dei, the problem of Christology – and even upon the development of doctrine itself? What, if any, are the eschatological implications of contemporary cosmology, especially in light of the vast future of our universe? Can theological method fruitfully appropriate insights from scientific methodology and the philosophy of science?"
In the major British Catholic periodical The Tablet (5/16), Margaret Susan Thompson, professor of history at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University with a special focus on US women religious, addresses "What do the US nuns see in conscious evolution?" She writes, "Many women religious are bemused by Cardinal Müller’s apparent belief that the presence of a controversial speaker at an LCWR meeting denotes either endorsement of all the speaker’s ideas or a serious possibility that merely by listening to controversial ideas audience members may be persuaded to 'think dangerous thoughts.' ...The average LCWR member holds one or more postgraduate degrees and is familiar with theoretical and theological complexity. She comes from a culture that celebrates both free speech and academic freedom, and welcomes the challenge of exposure to new concepts, but does not automatically or easily buy into them... Essentially most women Religious in the US, and those who support them, have a very different understanding of 'Church' – and of 'speaking for or with the Church' – than do Cardinal Müller, Archbishop Peter Sartain (the prelate charged with formal oversight of LCWR for a five-year period), and other involved members of the hierarchy. Sisters are used to broadly participatory consultation and consensus-building, not to edicts issued from authority figures, even those they have elected.... Most sisters I have consulted believe that not only hierarchy but patriarchy plays into the current dispute."
In NCR 5/8, Thomas C. Fox's article "LCWR vision builds on John Paul II initiative" steps back to help us see the broad and deep context for the whole situation. I'll touch only a few of his excellent perspectives. Fox describes how John Paul II in 1984 strengthened the Vatican's commitment to scientific learning. "Hoping to avoid [mistakes like the condemnation of Galileo] in the future, he [John Paul II] went on to say he wanted more than a truce, a mere 'two worlds strategy; rather, rather, discoveries in the natural sciences needed to be imaginatively confronted, interpreted philosophically and theologically." Twenty-five years later (2012), in the same spirit, LCWR "invited Barbara Max Hubbard to be its keynote speaker to get her perspective 'on the context of the world in which women religious are living and ministering.' ...These women pride themselves on living and working at the frontiers, pushing the boundaries, seeking ways to serve the church, often before others recognize the need." In 2013, LCWR continued this exploration by inviting Sister Ilia Delio, who told the LCWR Assembly, "A dynamic universe provokes the idea and the understanding of a dynamic God. This is not a stay-at-home God. This is a God who is deeply immersed in a love affair with the beloved, the creation which flows out of his divine heart."
Looking beyond the specific topic of conscious evolution, Fox notes that "LCWR itself is a novel and collegial group. Having come into its current iteration in 1971 during a period of rich church renewal following the Second Vatican Council, it chose not to organize in a traditional pyramid style with authority vested at the top. Picking up on the idea of collegiality -- one of the main themes of Vatican II, as Pope Francis reminds us -- the women instead said their group would be more democratic. Religious communities elect their leaders, and these, in turn, are sent by the congregations to represent them at regional and national gatherings. Furthermore, these gatherings elect temporary rotating governing officers, including a president-elect, president and past president. Major decisions, as a result, come about often painfully slow at annual assemblies after deliberation and prayer." His fine article also discusses LCWR's planned 2014 award to Sister Elizabeth Johnson, broad historical factors that influence the current Vatican-LCWR difficulties, and more.
I'm still learning but so far my bottom line is: conscious evolution means we're human. We are conscious of ourselves and increasingly conscious of our connections with each other and with the rest of creation. As conscious humans, we have responsibility to make moral choices about our relationships as part of creation; this is even more true for us as Christians, whose lives and works contribute to expanding consciousness and making God's presence ever more complete in Love.
This understanding comes from Teilhard and from Ilia Delio. I don't know how it may differ from the concepts of Barbara Marx Hubbard.
Both Delio and Marx Hubbard have presented at LCWR Assemblies. I am somewhere between angry and bewildered that Cardinal Muller would assume that these or any ideas would be "taken unreflectively" by women religious. Many factors influence his assumption, but his words make me wonder if he actually knows any US women religious. "Unreflectively"?!
Many congregations have incorporated conscious responsibility as part of creation into their missions. This choice is a product of the same humble dedication to communal discernment in Christ that I see constantly in the sisters I know and in LCWR as an organization. If there is a single hallmark that unites every LCWR presidential address in LCWR's book on Spiritual Leadership for Challenging Times, I'd nominate faith-full and honest communal discernment as that hallmark.
The church and society need more of it, I'd say. A lot more.
Come to our June 7 conference and get a taste that you can share in your own corners of the world.