Rev. Joe Ruiz, pastor emeritus at St. Edmund, wrote a column titled, “Ordinary Time” in the Sunday bulletins of the parishes where he was assigned. This was his last, dated July 7, two weeks before he died. We thought his final message was timely, given all that is happening in the Catholic Church these days, so we decide to share it with our readers.

It is difficult being Catholic these days; has been for a long time now. So many people have their own list of who is wrong and their own version of what page everyone should be on.

Working with and socializing with non-Catholics, i.e. most of the world, often is very embarrassing because there’s so much that cannot be explained away. There’s the pedophilia scandal and the bishops tap-dancing through the carnage and all that Vatican delay regarding the “American” problem.

Add to that the episcopal ignoring of the fact that the largest religious group in the United States, after Catholics who go to church with some regularity, is ex-Catholics — and nothing is being done about it. To that, add the weird imposition of the new translation in the New Missal and the unpublished scandal of just how we got stuck with what we are stuck with. Many Catholics think the New Missal is a diversion from other intractable items that need attention.

Then there is the general roll-back of Vatican II with the accompanying paternalistic reassurance that we are being faithful to that much misunderstood council.

Most recently we have the Congregation of the Faith’s reprimand and seizure of control of the Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR). Some see it as part of a war on women. Whatever it is, I think it’s rooted in men-being-men who have no lasting, redemptively-influential, feminine presence in their lives. So they stridently adhere to juridical/task orientation (under the guise of “truth”) and diminish the pastoral/caring importance which love of people and truly love of the truth demands.

Complicit in this are the American bishops themselves who, granted, would have a high price to pay for speaking out; a price levied by the Vatican and seconded by the isolation one would experience for breaking the unspoken “communion episcoporum,” that is, the unspoken agreement that unity of opinion and behavior of the bishops trumps everything else.

More than a month ago, I attended a prayer service at one of our parishes to express the gratitude and support of so many for the religious sisters of the Church. The church was jam-packed, the service was wonderfully prepared, and all were deeply touched, especially the hundreds of sisters present. The tribute was a needed shot in the arm for all.

Is there another group in the church deserving of such praise, another group held in greater esteem and affection than the sisters? Is there another group more respected for their hands-on ministry to Catholics and others; for caring for and educating children (as if they were their mothers); for caring for the sick and hugging the hopeless; for being in the front lines of civil rights marches; and for insisting, by their daily presence, that immigrants about to be deported (and their families) deserve counseling, as well as prayers and basic human dignity; for their outreach to those offended by and often overcome by the intolerance of their own parish clergy and bishops; for willingly serving as pastoral associates, often under priests who both knew and know less than they did or do; for simply being the caring human voice and hand when there were no others.

These were the women, vowed by poverty, chastity and obedience and living semi-cloistered lives, who were paid a pittance to educate children in the thousands of Catholic parishes across the country, living in often substandard convents or on the second floor of the parish school, while the priests lived in much better quarters for the most part.

Getting university degrees, mostly part time and on their day off, they became doctors and lawyers and social workers and really big-time administrators of colleges and hospitals. Yet in most instances, their foundresses were hassled, harried and harped at by the very bishops who invited them into their dioceses, wanting to control their dress, places of living and ministries. What was taken for “willful disobedience” was, most often, the nuns asserting their own intelligence, their own ministries and their own goodness — something they are still accused of today, by men.

I’ve read the May letter from the Congregation of the Faith to the LCWR. In content it is crafted to build an iron-clad prison on the undeniable accusation. In tone it is brutal. The “showing of the instruments” should follow next. This is in contrast to the all-but-exquisite care and tenderness shown to practically every group on the right, especially the followers of Cardinal Lefebvre who separated from Rome, ordained their own bishops and deny Vatican II in principle.

The office of the inquisition [Congregation of the Faith] survives the centuries because “inquisition” is a mentality — one totally foreign to Jesus who suffered at its hands. No thumbscrews or any part or any other tortures (all ordered with calm deliberateness) for which the Inquisition is known. No, none of this anymore; not in this far gentler age.

But the mentality continues, the necessity for control; the passion for uniformity; the dismissal of good deeds by faint praise; the intensity in constructing inescapable, boxed-in charges; the relentless pursuit and the regrettable glories of force. All accompanied with “for the common good” and heartfelt desires of help and invitation of “constructive conversation” along with the reassurance that “we are your teachers,” and you will obey us.

Do some role reversal! Say a parent or two sat down in front of the members of the Congregation and related how they had just been informed by their married son that he is really gay and their daughter just had a second abortion because the man she’s living with beats her. What would they say or do? Cite doctrine? Refer them to someone else? This is what the sisters deal with — and more.

No wonder the sisters were “stunned,” as they put it, by that letter from the Congregation of the Faith.

Doesn’t it seem safer to live in one’s head, with all of its pristine logic and dictates, than to live in the messiness of ordinary lives where there often are no neat and tidy answers and a person lucky to find someone, anyone, caring and gifted enough to help them cope, inch by inch, with the unfairness of life?

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