Monastery to Matrimony, my memoir, might be considered a journey through modern times in the Catholic Church. My twenty years in an Illinois convent gave me a perspective not only of how convent rules and practices changed over the years, but also how the Church changed.
Midpoint in my twenty years introduced the first hope for the Church to be in step with the thinking of its people. Pope John XXIII introduced the documents of the Second Vatican Council in 1962. In his wisdom he saw how the Church needed to be open to the people it served. He recognized that nuns could better serve by coming out from behind the heavy gated walls. He urged them to return to the mission of their founders, a mission to work with the poor, the sick, the neglected, the suffering under injustices. He set in motion a refreshing new role for nuns in the institutional Church.
In the years after Pope John XXIII, his legacy dimmed with the succeeding Popes. Not all of them agreed with his foresight. Today the Vatican is underestimating the independence of the intelligent religious women of convents. They are not accepting a return to dominance by the Bishops of the Church.
With the election of Pope Francis in 2013, I have hope once again. He is not cut from the same cloth as his predecessors. First of all, his cloth is that of an Order priest, from the Society of Jesus Order, (Jesuits). He has lived a minimalist life in common with his brother religious. When elected, he immediately rejected the elaborate trappings of previous Popes in everything from his simple clothing, to his car, and living accommodations.
For the future I see a Church that is open and inclusive as evidenced on Sunday, September 15, 2014 when Pope Francis married twenty couples at St. Peters in Rome, including couples who had lived together, which is considered a sin in the Catholic Church. As he has said, “Who am I to judge.”
My friend Father Joseph Breen of Nashville, must be rejoicing at this news. He has long preached the same message of inclusiveness and never judging.
Next, I am hoping that Pope Francis will eliminate the practice of Nullification of first marriages required for a divorced person to marry a Catholic. (See my own experience in Chapter Twenty-Four of Monastery to Matrimony.)