A couple of weeks ago, Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times wrote a column (Sister Acts) praising religious sisters. Well, certain ones. As I argued at Aleteia, Kristof wants to tell the world that there are two Catholic Churches: On the one hand, the hopeless stick-in-the-mud hierarchy in love with dogma and on the other the broad, great “grassroots” Church that loves and serves the world like Jesus would.
Unfortunately for Kristof, the examples he used of the good Church were … two hierarchy-led organizations: Catholic Relief Services and Caritas.
But he chose his sister stories carefully to suggest that antagonism to the Vatican is a prerequisite for strength in sisters.
The occasion for Kristof’s piece was an upcoming Jo Piazza book about religious sisters. Now Time is running a piece by Piazza herself “The Great Nunquisition.” The piece even more forcefully paints the story of beleaguered sisters pummeled by the Vatican while they try to serve the people of God despite the Church.
In fact, sisters need not oppose the Church to serve its people. In Aleteia, I shared the stories of heroic sisters who, like Jesus, are people of service and of doctrine.
Sister Roseann Reddy, founder of the Sisters of the Gospel of Life, is trying to make good the Scottish church’s promise that “unwanted” children can be brought to them. She is also a gentle but firm defender of the truths of the Catholic faith, including its teaching on priestly ordination.
I shared the story of Olalla Oliveros and Sister Amado Rosa Pére — models who walked away from life in the fast lane to show that the surpassing beauty of the Catholic faith is greater than the world’s superficial view of beauty.
Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia did the opposite: She brought the power of her religious vocation to the popular culture. She won the 2014 Italian edition of the singing contest “The Voice” and then led the crowds in a televised Our Father.
Sister Antonia Brenner is a religious sister who literally lived in a Tijuana prison with her flock before she died last year at age 86. “I’m effective in riots because I’m not afraid. I just pray and walk into it,” she told the Associated Press in 2006. “A woman in a white veil walks in, someone they know loves them. So silence comes, explanation comes and arms go down.”
Then there is the martyr Sister Valsa John of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary. The 53-year old was hacked to death two years ago serving the tribal people of Jharkhand in eastern India, where her work was praised by the U.S. bishops’ office.
“The Little Sisters adhere to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. In accordance with their faith, they uphold the unique, inviolable dignity of all human life, especially those deemed weak or, to some, ‘worthless’ in society. The federal government’s contraception and abortion mandate, however, forces the Little Sisters to provide services that destroy human life, contradicting their very mission to respect it. … The Becket Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor, seeking to uphold their right to carry out their vows of obedience in their service to the poor.”
Truly, sisters need not be opponents of Church teaching to be strong examples. In fact, standing up for the Church’s teaching requires a special kind of strength.
It may be a thankless job, but sisters — we salute you.