Impasse & Opportunity - A Contemplative Approach

We are living in times of crisis. Crisis as symbolized in Chinese characters means two things: danger and opportunity. This past year’s scandals regarding how the US bishops handled the issues of sexual abuse among its clergy has saddened many of us. The pain and shame of so many victims is now part of our collective identity as US Catholics. This situation also exposed the structures of silence and clerical privilege that breed defensiveness and fear of change.

During the last decades we have experienced within the Catholic Church a growing attempt by Vatican officials to silence different voices, to discipline theologians who question doctrinal formulations, to forbid conversations about what a future church might look like. Women and especially women religious have experienced this in countless ways.

In response to the changes of Vatican II, many of us who are women religious have chosen to serve among the marginalized in our society. Many whom we serve are women who experience economic oppression as well as suffer rejection by the Church because of having had an abortion, being divorced, using contraceptives or loving another woman. We have become conscious of how patriarchy is embedded in the life of the ecclesial institution and how a woman’s perspective is largely invisible within the decision-making structures of the Church. Women’s voices are not being heard nor have we been part of shaping any official theological formulation about the sensitive moral issues we encounter in our ministries.

As I stated in my 2000 Presidential Address to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, “I am becoming ever more aware of one of the gifts that we who have lived religious life during the second half of the 20th century can offer to both the official Church and the entire people of God. That gift is precisely the way in which we have claimed apostolic, monastic and evangelical religious life as unfolding in us as women committed to action on behalf of justice and transformation of the world.”

I believe it is our experience as women and women committed to action on behalf of justice and the transformation of the world that places us at a crisis moment within the Church. We are in an impasse. Yet, I believe impasse provides all of us—women and men, lay and clerics—with opportunity. I believe that an impasse embraced in faith leads us to contemplation. To take a long, loving look at the real.

Like mystics we come to know God from our own life. Dorothee Soelle writes in The Silent Cry,

” First, mystics have very rarely separated themselves from existing historical religions; without externally changing a single letter, they understood the meaning of these religions more deeply. They did not deny revelation but appropriated it differently. Second, conflict was part and parcel of the case: confrontation has to come between too much love for God and the institution that is concerned with regularity and order….Mysticism and organized religion are related like spirit to power.”

The experience of impasse in the Church is an impetus for many participating in the Engaging Impasse Circles. As we engage the impasse, we are embarking on a journey that is dangerous yet holds the possibility of opportunity, and of transformation.

Click here to read Nancy Sylvester, IHM’s 2000 Presidential Address to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR)in which she describes the ecclesial situation women religious find themselves in and why she sees it as a situation of impasse calling for contemplation.

Click here to read the Call To Action keynote address by Nancy Sylvester, IHM,in which she reflects on the years following the Second Vatican Council and the US Bishops’ Call to Action and the challenge she sees for Catholics today.

Written by Nancy Sylvester, IHM

© 2003-2015 Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue
Reprint with permission

Further Reading
Arbuckle, Gerald A. Change, Grief, and Renewal in the Church. Westminster, MD:Christian Classics, Inc., 1991.
In this book, Arbuckle explores the process of corporate grief. He discusses the need to accept the pain that any change involves both individually and corporately. Arbuckle offers a Biblical spirituality to support his thesis and provides practical guidelines on how to foster this in Gospel.

Morwood, Michael. Is Jesus God?New York, NY: Crossroad, 2001.
Morwood writes to stimulate discussion on key questions and issues facing us today. Written to assist in adult faith formation, Morwood examines how adult faith is formed; connects contemporary knowledge about the universe and the development of life on earth with the faith we acquired; and reflects on the teaching of Jesus in the light of this new story.

O’Murchu, Diarmuid. Reclaiming Spirituality. New York, NY: Crossroad, 1998.
Drawing on a number of disciplines, O’Murchu explores how spirituality is, and always has been, more central to human experience than religion. He posits that the religious, moral and spiritual breakdown of our time has to do with religion and not spirituality. The new upsurge of spirituality, he offers, is one manifestation of a world undergoing global transformation. He believes that humanity yearns to reclaim the deep, primal sacred story of our evolving universe. This deep yearning is to outgrow, transcend, evolve towards the new that is beckoning us forth.

Schneiders, IHM, Sandra. Finding the Treasure.Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2000.
In this the first of a three volume series on religious life primarily for North American Roman Catholic women religious, Schneiders skillfully explores the context within which women religious find themselves today. She addresses both the human context and the ecclesial context. Her scholarship provides an excellent analysis of the post-Modern realities challenging us today.

Soelle, Dorothee. The Silent Cry—Mysticism and Resistance.Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2001.
This is an excellent book for anyone who is trying to integrate contemplation and action. Soelle draws from her experience as well as from many world leaders in mysticism and non-violent resistance. She explores how the religious impulse of mysticism, the “silent cry” is at the heart of all the world’s religions. Soelle argues for the importance of mysticism in countering the destructive aspects of ego, group bias, materialism, and violence. Religion in the third millennium, Soelle argues, will either be mystical or it will be dead.

Wessels,OP, Cletus. The Holy Web, Church and the New Universe Story. New York, NY: Orbis Books, 2000.
Wessels links how the world revealed by contemporary science impacts our understanding of church and Christianity. He shows how the “New Creation Story” connects with the biblical symbols of creation, redemption, sin, grace, life and death, God-Christ-Spirit, faith, hope and love.

Web Sites
Call To Action
Call To Action USA (CTA) is an independent national organization of over 25,000 people and 40 local organizations who believe the entire Catholic church has the obligation of responding to the needs of the world and taking initiative in programs of peace and justice. The site provides access to their publications and resources. It also has excellent links to related Catholic sites.

The Culture of Conversation
The Culture of Conversation exists to encourage respectful conversation among a broad spectrum of Catholics in order to further Vatican II’s call for a Church marked by conversation, consultation, and collaboration. The web site provides theological input, rituals, and skills to facilitate these conversations.

Leadership Conference of Women Religious
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is a canonically approved membership organization which exists as a support system and corporate voice for leaders of institutes of women religious (Catholic sisters) in the United States. The site provides access to their statements and materials as well as other links to other related organizations.

National Conference of US Bishops
Official site of the US Conference provides overview of the organization’s mission, departments, and publications.

NETWORK is a national Catholic Social Justice Lobby. The web site provides excellent information on national legislative issues concerning domestic and international issues of justice and peace as well as easy access to your Representatives and Senators.

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