Hat-tip to Amy Welborn's blog, as well as the Kansas City Catholic Key, for bringing the 2007 LCWR keynote address to light.
The dynamic option for Religious Life, which I am calling, Sojourning, is much more difficult to discuss, since it involves moving beyond the Church, EVEN BEYOND JESUS. A sojourning congregation is no longer ecclesiastical. It has grown beyond the bounds of institutional religion. Its search for the Holy may have begun rooted in Jesus as the Christ, but deep reflection, study and prayer have opened it up to THE SPIRIT OF THE HOLY IN ALL CREATION. Religious titles, institutional limitations, ecclesiastical authorities no longer fit this congregation, which in most respects is Post-Christian.
This is heresy; cf: "Jesus said to him, 'I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but by me'" (Jn 14:6).
When religious communities embraced the spirit of renewal in the 1970s, they took seriously that THE WORLD WAS NO LONGER THE ENEMY, that a sense of ecumenism required encountering the holy “other,” and that the God of Jesus might well be the God of Moses and the God of Mohammed. The works of Thomas Merton encouraged an exploration of the nexus between Eastern and Western religious practices. The emergence of the women’s movement with is concomitant critique of religion invited women everywhere to use a hermeneutical lens of suspicion when reading the androcentric Scriptures and the texts of the Tradition. With a new lens, women also began to see the divine within nature, the value and importance of the cosmos, and that the emerging new cosmology encouraged their spirituality and fed their souls.
The world is no longer the enemy? Cf: "And the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (Jn 17:14-16).
As one sister described it, “I was rooted in the story of Jesus, and it remains at my core, but I’ve also moved beyond Jesus.” The Jesus narrative is not the only or the most important narrative for these women. They still hold up and reverence the values of the Gospel, but they also recognize that these same values are not solely the property of Christianity. Buddhism, Native American spirituality, Judaism, Islam and others hold similar tenets for right behavior within the community, right relationship with the earth and right relationship with the Divine. With these insights come a shattering or freeing realization—depending on where you stand. JESUS IS NOT THE ONLY SON OF GOD. Salvation is not limited to Christians. Wisdom is found in the traditions of the Church as well as beyond it.
'Jesus is not the only Son of God', eh? Cf: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (Jn 1:14).
Sojourners have left the religious home of their fathers and mothers and are traveling in a foreign land, mapping their way as they go. They are courageous women among us. And very well may provide a glimpse into the new thing that God is bringing about in our midst. Who’s to say that the movement beyond Christ is not, in reality, a movement into the very heart of God? A movement the ecclesiastical system would not recognize. A wholly new way of being holy that is integrative, non-dominating, and inclusive. But a whole new way that is also not Catholic Religious Life. The Benedictine Women of Madison are the most current example I can name. Their commitment to ecumenism lead them beyond the exclusivity of the Catholic Church into a new inclusivity, where all manner of seeking God is welcomed. They are certainly religious women, but they are no longer women religious as it is defined by the Roman Catholic Church. They choose as a congregation to step outside the Church in order to step into a greater sense of holiness. Theirs was a choice of integrity, insight and courage.
...and apostasy! Sanctus Athanasius, ora pro nobis.