sr. pat farrell’s strategy for dialogue in the church

The women of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) have shown a remarkable dignity since the release of the Vatican assessment in April. While media, commentaries and discussion boards screamed with anger and displeasure at the bishops, the LCWR leadership waited until their annual Assembly to dialogue with its membership before giving an official response. The National Catholic Reporter has many in-depth reports, news stories, and commentaries from the Assembly, which took place last week.

I’ve been following the LCWR story closely for two reasons. First of all, out of love and respect for the many religious women I know. Secondly, I believe the issue of dialogue is vital to healing the present division; not only between the LCWR and the Vatican, but within the church as a whole. The need for dialogue out of a place of respect and mutual trust is obvious. Many believe that it is impossible, since the two parties are coming from such seemingly opposing views and philosophies.

Sr. Pat Farrell, now past-president of the LCWR, is optimistic. Her Presidential Address to the Assembly, Navigating the Shifts, provides a practical and hopeful model for entering into an effective conversation with the bishops. It is both insightful and inspiring, and I encourage you to read it in its entirety. In answer to the question “How can we navigate these shifts?” she responds with six tools. She believes these tools “have served us through centuries of religious life are, I believe, still a compass to guide us now.”

THROUGH CONTEMPLATION… In situations of impasse, it is only prayerful spaciousness that allows what wants to emerge to manifest itself. We are at such an impasse now. Our collective wisdom needs to be gathered. It germinates in silence, as we saw during the six weeks following the issuing of the mandate from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. We wait for God to carve out a deeper knowing in us.

WITH A PROPHETIC VOICE… There is no guarantee, however, that simply by virtue of our vocation we can be prophetic. Prophecy is both God’s gift as well as the product of rigorous asceticism. Our rootedness in God needs to be deep enough and our read on reality clear enough for us to be a voice of conscience.

THROUGH SOLIDARITY WITH THE MARGINALIZED… Vulnerable human beings put us more in touch with the truth of our limited and messy human condition, marked as it is by fragility, incompleteness, and inevitable struggle. The experience of God from that place is one of absolutely gratuitous mercy and empowering love.

THROUGH COMMUNITY… We have effectively moved from a hierarchically structured lifestyle in our congregations to a more horizontal model. It is quite amazing, considering the rigidity from which we evolved. The participative structures and collaborative leadership models we have developed have been empowering, lifegiving. These models may very well be the gift we now bring to the Church and the world.

NON-VIOLENTLY… The breaking down and breaking through of massive paradigm shift is a violent sort of process. It invites the inner strength of a non-violent response. Jesus is our model in this.

BY LIVING IN JOYFUL  HOPE… Joyful hope is the hallmark of genuine discipleship. We look forward to a future full of hope, in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Hope makes us attentive to signs of the inbreaking of the Reign of God.

Two paradigms will gather around the table. One rooted in a hierarchical, authoritarian, and patriarchal style of leadership. The other grounded in a horizontal, collaborative, participatory and communitarian form of life. Both, we would hope, are grounded in prayer. May the Holy Spirit open their minds, ears and hearts to truly listen to the other with love, respect, and mutual trust.

Related story

LCWR’s annual meeting: Some reflections and a little back story by Jamie L. Manson is a first-hand look and reflection from the LCWR Assembly.

5 thoughts on “sr. pat farrell’s strategy for dialogue in the church

  1. So glad to find you back this week, Isabella! Thank you for all your insights and connecting us to other articles. God bless the nuns as they struggle in their journey and bring hope to us all.

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