One of the most prized dishes in Chinese cuisine is called “The Monk Jumped Over the Wall.” The name comes from the folk belief that the monk was unable to resist the aroma of this delicious dish and jumped the wall in search of it.
Reading Jo Piazza’s If Nuns Ruled The World: Ten Sisters on a Mission, it is clear that these nuns, and others like them, have been drawn by people’s needs, to jump the walls of patriarchy and prejudice.
And there’s no putting them back behind those walls.
Just ask media maven, Sr. Maureen Fiedler: “After all, Jesus was a feminist, and we claim to follow him.”
One nun, though, has accepted being put behind bars for literally breaking through the fences around the nuclear facility in Oak Ridge,Tennessee. Sr. Megan Rice is unfazed by clerical disapproval.
“I don’t believe in excommunication,” she says, “because I don’t see the institutional Church as the real Church.”
Jesus: An Equal Opportunity Employer
Pope Francis, who has inspired so much hope, sadly still speaks in stereotypes about the “feminine genius.” “The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion,” he says. To which Sr. Maureen Fiedler says: “Jesus is an equal opportunity employer.” Vatican II did say: “any type of social or cultural discrimination based on sex is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent.”
The Gospel comes alive in the community as the sisters find God in places of suffering. They are mending, always mending what Sr. Simone Campbell likes to call the “broken hearts” of those who live on the margins.
People welcome the support they receive from the sisters as they struggle to raise children, make informed choices about their reproductive health, and gain some control over their lives. For years, Sr. Donna Quinn accompanied frightened women to health clinics to shield them from jeering protestors. Today she lobbies for women’s reproductive autonomy. Sr. Tesa Fitzgerald helps women who are in prison stay connected to their children while inside and tackle the myriad hurdles they face when they come out. Recidivism for the women in her “Hour Children” ministry: 3 percent versus 29 percent for women in New York.
The bishops call this work radical feminism.
Who is Isaiah speaking to when he says: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways?”
Piazza documents Sr. Jeannine Grammick’s pioneering LGBT ministry. Reaching out to LGBT Catholics, celebrating the Eucharist and walking with them in their struggles prompted so much clerical harassment that she chose to leave the School Sisters of Notre Dame and joined the Sisters of Loretto.
The obstructionism of men in high places does not faze Sr. Nora Nash either. As Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for the Sisters of St. Francis, Sr. Nora publicly challenged Lloyd Blankfein on the ugliness of Goldman executives making more in one day than most workers make in a year. “In a way worthy of the gospel of Christ,” she charges right in, holding corporations accountable, introducing stockholder resolutions on wages, labor rights, child labor, predatory lending, fracking and more.
The conviction that the Divine is present everywhere is one that Sr. Madonna Buder embraces. This veteran of 366 marathons, 46 of them, Ironman events, insists, “There is no limit, no boundaries, to when and where you can commune with God.”
But limits there certainly are in the underworld of human trafficking. It is a world “so wounded, violent and stripped of hope,” that Sr. Joan Dawber shrank from it. Yet she has made providing safe houses for the victims of human trafficking her life’s work because she feels the “spirit of the Lord” calling her to “let the oppressed go free.”
Sr. Dianna Mae Ortiz herself survived rape and torture and rose above the horrors of her experience in Guatemala to establish the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC). She is haunted by her ordeal but she believes deeply that she was living the Gospel when she decided to stay on in Guatemala despite the death threats. Piazza reports her quietly saying that “on some level I took my place on what I refer to as a modern-day cross.”
Fastened to the thread while piercing the cloth
In Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings, as the slave seamstress, Handful, contemplates the terrible risk of trying to escape from early 19th century Charleston, she draws on her mother’s wisdom: “You got to figure out which end of the needle you’re gon be, the one that’s fastened to the thread or the end that pierces the cloth.”
The sisters, it seems, have figured out how to be both.
Dawn Morais Webster was born in Kerala. She is the mother of two young adults, and wife of a man with Quaker and Episcopalian roots. She was raised Catholic in largely Muslim, cosmopolitan Malaysia and had her schooling with Franciscan nuns who remain an inspiration. Her blog at http://freecatholic808 is a small voice–but she believes she is part of a much larger community of faith-filled dissenters. Hawaii has been her home for more than a decade. The islands’ mindfulness of its past and the wisdom of those who have gone before, as well as its attention to place and people, help the soul to sing.