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What? 'Nuns Are Not Called to Serve the World... '

06/04/2014 04:17 pm ET | Updated Aug 04, 2014

A man who has responded to my plea to LCWR (Leadership Conference of Religious Women) to be out of order says, "nuns are not called to serve the world." He further says that the founding documents of religious communities would prove this. I checked the Rule of St. Angela, and heard Angela, the founder of the Ursulines, advising her sisters to be faithful, to pray always, to be obedient, and in the language of her times, that is, 1545, "to obey the counsels and inspirations which the Holy Spirit continually sends into the heart, whose voice we will hear all the more clearly the more purified and clean our conscience, since the Holy Spirit is he who (as Jesus Christ says) 'docet nos omnem veritatem,' that is, teaches us every truth" (Chapter VIII: 14-16). In Chapter IX: 21-22, the Rule further stipulates: " Instead, let all our words, acts, and conduct always be to teach and edify those who deal with us, having charity always burning in our hearts." To me, this means that from the very beginning, Ursulines were to act with charity and lead others toward God. I think this has a lot to do with serving the world.

In my book, Being Out of Order, pages 20-21 contain a representative sampling of data from religious communities throughout the United States. Included is a mission statement from each community. The Mercy Sisters wish "to serve people who suffer from poverty, sickness, and lack of education." The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur "work with others to create peace and justice for all." The Visitation Sisters, a contemplative community, want "to give to God daughters of prayer," and the Maryknoll Sisters see themselves as "making God's love visible." The Ursulines today intend to transform society "through contemplation, justice and compassion." One need only to compare these contemporary mission statements with the founding documents to realize that the developments of purpose and mission have been organic and true to the charism of the founders.

As I write this, the wind is blowing the leaves of the tress and the early spring blossoms are flying around the house and settling on the grass and the street. That's the Spirit at work in the same way as women who serve the world work, disturbing the calm and spreading the word. These women, those in religious communities, those who have left religious communities, and those never in a religious community are not satisfying their own egos, but are doing the work of the Spirit in our times, not the times of our foremothers.

Jesus told us in John 16: 12-14 about truth: "There is still much that I could say to you, but the burden would be too great for you now. However, when he comes who is the Spirit of truth, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but will tell only what he hears; and he will make known to you the things that are coming." This passage makes my heart leap with joy, as Elizabeth's heart did when her cousin Mary came to visit her, for I believe this is the way the Spirit is working today. That wind outside my window has something to say. Those who are faithful to the Gospel are greeting the Spirit as Elizabeth did Mary because they recognize how truth gets around and how charity and justice get done.

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