Throughout the Old and New Testaments, the Lord used the imagery of the Bride and the Bridegroom to describe his relationship with humanity. In Hosea, the Lord reminds Israel of the infidelity she had shown ever since the time that that God had freed her from slavery in Egypt. She stayed from her Maker, engaging in worshipping false gods. In Ezekiel, the Lord continues to chastise Israel for her repeated indiscretions, likening her to an unfaithful wife.
In St. John's Gospel, Jesus calls himself the Bridegroom. St. John the Baptist uses the same word to describe the Lord. Jesus uses this nuptial reference several times, most notably when he preaches the parable of the 10 wise virgins and the 10 foolish virgins who fall asleep waiting the arrival of the Bridegroom. The 10 wise ones plan ahead, saving their oil, while the 10 foolish ones waste it. When the Bridegroom finally comes, only the 10 wise ones are able to fully partake of the nuptial feast because they conserved what they had while the 10 foolish ones did not.
St. Paul also uses this nuptial imagery. Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church, as St. Paul observed, is the Bride.
In this day and age, we are presented with another nuptial imagery of Christ and the Bride; only in this case, the brides are the members of the Leadership Council of Women Religious, and the infractions, lamentably, are similar to those that Ancient Israel practiced in the times of Hosea and Ezekiel, and, to a huge extent, the actions of the 10 foolish virgins in Christ's parable. It is almost as though these brides of Christ, who have been united to the Lord for several decades, have drifted away from their Divine Spouse and have wasted away the oil of gladness that He had given them when they were consecrated to Him.
The LCRW continues its sparring match with the Holy See concerning the Doctrinal Assessment conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
His Eminence, Gerhard Cardinal Muller, Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, delivered a powerful address to the LCWR, admonishing the organization for its selection of a dissident theologian whose book on the Holy Trinity was censured by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
It saddens me to learn that you have decided to give the Outstanding Leadership Award during this year’s Assembly to a theologian criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in that theologian’s writings. This is a decision that will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment. Not only that, but it further alienates the LCWR from the Bishops as well.
I realize I am speaking rather bluntly about this, but I do so out of an awareness that there is no other interpretive lens, within and outside the Church, through which the decision to confer this honor will be viewed. It is my understanding that Archbishop Sartain was informed of the selection of the honoree only after the decision had been made. Had he been involved in the conversation as the Mandate envisions, I am confident that he would have added an important element to the discernment which then may have gone in a different direction. The decision taken by the LCWR during the ongoing implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment is indeed regrettable and demonstrates clearly the necessity of the Mandate’s provision that speakers and presenters at major programs will be subject to approval by the Delegate. I must therefore inform you that this provision is to be considered fully in force. I do understand that the selection of honorees results from a process, but this case suggests that the process is itself in need of reexamination. I also understand that plans for this year’s Assembly are already at a very advanced stage and I do not see the need to interrupt them. However, following the August Assembly, it will be the expectation of the Holy See that Archbishop Sartain have an active role in the discussion about invited speakers and honorees.
This is not the first time that the LCRW has had questionable speakers at its conference. As Fr. John Zuhlsdorf noted in his blog, the organization invited a speaker who advocates "conscious evolution", something that is akin to the ancient heresy of gnosticism. In the same aforementioned address, Cardinal Muller remained direct in his comments:
For the last several years, the Congregation has been following with increasing concern a focalizing of attention within the LCWR around the concept of Conscious Evolution. Since Barbara Marx Hubbard addressed the Assembly on this topic two years ago, every issue of your newsletter has discussed Conscious Evolution in some way. Issues of Occasional Papers have been devoted to it. We have even seen some religious Institutes modify their directional statements to incorporate concepts and undeveloped terms from Conscious Evolution.
Again, I apologize if this seems blunt, but what I must say is too important to dress up in flowery language. The fundamental theses of Conscious Evolution are opposed to Christian Revelation and, when taken unreflectively, lead almost necessarily to fundamental errors regarding the omnipotence of God, the Incarnation of Christ, the reality of Original Sin, the necessity of salvation and the definitive nature of the salvific action of Christ in the Paschal Mystery.
My concern is whether such an intense focus on new ideas such as Conscious Evolution has robbed religious of the ability truly to sentire cum Ecclesia. To phrase it as a question, do the many religious listening to addresses on this topic or reading expositions of it even hear the divergences from the Christian faith present?
This concern is even deeper than the Doctrinal Assessment’s criticism of the LCWR for not providing a counter-point during presentations and Assemblies when speakers diverge from Church teaching. The Assessment is concerned with positive errors of doctrine seen in the light of the LCWR’s responsibility to support a vision of religious life in harmony with that of the Church and to promote a solid doctrinal basis for religious life. I am worried that the uncritical acceptance of things such as Conscious Evolution seemingly without any awareness that it offers a vision of God, the cosmos, and the human person divergent from or opposed to Revelation evidences that a de facto movement beyond the Church and sound Christian faith has already occurred.
I do not think I overstate the point when I say that the futuristic ideas advanced by the proponents of Conscious Evolution are not actually new. The Gnostic tradition is filled with similar affirmations and we have seen again and again in the history of the Church the tragic results of partaking of this bitter fruit. Conscious Evolution does not offer anything which will nourish religious life as a privileged and prophetic witness rooted in Christ revealing divine love to a wounded world. It does not present the treasure beyond price for which new generations of young women will leave all to follow Christ. The Gospel does! Selfless service to the poor and marginalized in the name of Jesus Christ does!
He also took them to task because of some comments that had been made about moving beyond Jesus and beyond the Church. I am no theologian by any means; however, I cannot wrap my head around a conscious statement that a professed religious, male or female, could make about going past Christ and His Church. This gives the Protestant notion of being "left behind" a whole new and weird meaning. Did these nuns not read Jesus' farewell discourage in St. John's Gospel account?
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.
Apart from Christ, we are nothing. We cannot do anything, as He told His disciples. When we were baptized, we were incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ. Jesus founded the Church as the means for our salvation. He entrusted the Church to St. Peter and his successors, entrusting Himself in the Holy Eucharist. Moving beyond Christ and His Church is simply ludicrous. While Cardinal Muller rightly reminds the LCRW that they run the risk of falling into gnosticism, I would add that they also expose themselves to the guiles of the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve into the sin of pride. They seem to think that they know better than Christ and the Church. The sad reality is that they do not.
The members of the LCRW seem to have taken the route that Ancient Israel took, drifting away from the Lord and seeking comfort in false theologies that are not only meaningless; they also place their souls in peril. It is as though the women have let the oil of gladness run dry and have found a cheap substitute.
When a person or a group embarks on fuzzy theology, this leads into fuzzy liturgical practices. If a person or group believes that the Faith of the Church can be compromised, then disrespect for Her liturgical rites cannot be far behind. Even paraliturgical ceremonies can turn into a parody.
It's almost as thought the LCRW has really lost it on so many levels. Some many want to be liberated of the "constraints" placed on them by the Church; however, that is not how true freedom works. True freedom, as Pope St. John Paul II reminds us, is not about doing as we wish, but, in doing as we ought. Cardinal Muller and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are not trying to suppress these women; rather, they are reminding them of their true vocation.
Women religious, for the most part, consider themselves Brides of Christ and they rightly are. It seems to me that the LCWR has forgotten this. It is as though they have tired of their Bridegroom and want something more. Yet, when the Bridegroom is no less than Christ, Himself, who has given them everything, including His very self, what more could they want?
This is the question that the LCRW should, in all honesty, be asking themselves.