Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.”

Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.

But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!”

Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:25-32)

Many human beings have a fine-tuned sense of the unfair. It begins at an early age. And for some, it never seems to let up. It intensifies, and in such cases, causes an elaboration of family, work, and church conflicts. After further reflection on both the LCWR and their more bitter critics, plus a few of the sisters’ more vociferous defenders, I’m convinced that there’s a broad commonality across this political divide. Many Catholics are playing the elder brother. And there’s a delicious irony about how widespread the protest of unfair! actually is.

I’ve seen the protests about the LCWR investigation. The bishops have cost the Church billions of dollars by mismanaging sex predators. Who investigates them? Clergy ordinations are down as much as commitments to religious life. Who investigates that? Parishes are mismanaged financially. Who investigates that?

And on the other side: I faithfully pray the rosary every day, so why do women religious have workshops on yoga, the enneagram, meditation, creation spirituality, feminism,and the like? None of that is Catholic! Why do they get away with it, when I am so gosh-darned faithful?

The women religious themselves, to their credit, are indulging in very little of the unfair-speak. Mostly, women religious want to be free to follow their community charism, and contribute to their parishes and sisters’ well-being with their individual gifts as much as they are able. Interference from people who largely have no experience in religious life can be a challenge. Pile on that few investigators have explored the notion of apostolic religious life–how many still refer to all sisters as nuns? It’s not just the secular media.

That’s not to say that people outside of religious life might not have apt perspectives to offer such communities. My own take is that adults can assess their discernment in community far better than isolated clergy who are largely bereft of daily community experiences, who seem to keep their own counsel when they reach the Top, and seem to lack the basic curiosity about what makes vowed religious life tick. The pope and cardinals and bishops seem more like elder brothers in this light, sneering at choices they would not have made, and sowing seeds of suspicion amongst themselves.

The parable of the prodigal and faithful sons is extremely illustrative. What a brilliant microcosm of human alienation. The elder son makes a demand of his father: “Listen!” Then he goes on his rant, not even acknowledging his relationship with his brother, referring to him as “this son of yours.”

The father does indeed listen, and reminds his elder child than the person in question is a “brother of yours.”

The ideal result is not the prim smug expression of the elder brother when the younger sibling gets what’s coming to her or him. My mother was fairly strict about sibling punishment not being a spectator sport in our house growing up. I don’t think the blogosphere is contributing much of good health to the CDF-LCWR divide.

Myself, I don’t enjoy seeing the hierarchy being made into mincemeat over this, either in church circles or in the secular press. A weakened college of bishops is a weakness in the Body. My friend Dale Price wondered if I’d prefer Rome and the bishops muzzled. And no, I hope that doesn’t happen. I think the kind of leadership I’d hope to see is more along the lines of the father than the elder brother. The father was willing to meet his younger son halfway up the road. The father exits the house and leaves the party to greet his elder son who refuses to enter. It is the ministry of a father (or a parent) to move to where the children are. We do not hold court. We must demonstrate the lengths that should be gone to in order to reconcile a family and restore relationships.

Whether anybody likes it or not, it is the task of Archbishop Sartain, and his brother bishops, to meet the LCWR where they are. If, that is, they believe they are true fathers, and if they believe the sisters are authentically wayward. It is those kinds of gestures that demonstrate true ministry, true respect, and true hope for reconciliation. Lacking that, I would take it as a sign that my suspicions are more aligned with the LCWR crackdown being a bunch of bitter old men resentful over two generations of hurt. In which case, it would be time to grow up. To grow into the role of a true father. To learn a lesson from the Lord, Luke 15:11-32- like.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Unfair!

  1. Liam says:

    In reality, the overwhelming majority of us are mixed matter: wheat and chaff, younger son and elder son and father, et cet.; our role simply varies according to the matter at hand. When we understand that well, we are more inclined to have compassion when we engage with others who are in their respective roles (which might be the same or different than our own role).

    Black-and-white thinking is often a red flag of someone who was raised in a family/household with either active addiction patterns or the strong residue of such from a preceding generation. Learning to see how different roles co-exist within ourselves is an important corrective to this dynamic, whether it’s strong tendency to associate yourself with the righteous side or (perhaps at least as common but much less discussed directly and typically only manifested indirected) a strong tendency to assume one’s self is in the wrong.

    • Todd says:

      Excellent! I recall in Henri Nouwen’s book how, upon deeper reflection (plus the perspective of years) he saw all three working in him throughout his life. Though his experience as a pastor at L’Arche deepened his appreciation for the role of the waiting Father. He saw that as a true aspect of the experience of being a pastor, which I don’t think he ever got to experience in his home diocese, given that he was sent off for further studies, and then became something of a wandering professor/writer/seeker.

      But I have seen more of the waiting Father dynamic coming to the fore as I’ve gotten older. Having a teen daughter and working with college students (as they come and go) I see more strongly the need for the virtues of prudence and patience. But I can still wander out onto the front porch to urge someone inside, as it were.

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