“Do you know what Mother Teresa said the biggest problem in the modern age was?” asked our smiling professor.
“Abortion?” asked one student.
“No.” came the reply.
“Poverty?” asked another.
“Greed and Materialism?”
“No, but once you hear it, you’ll be amazed, because sometimes these saints say the most remarkable things, which can only be a sign of grace.” At this point Dr. D’Andrea looked around the table at all of us students, sighed, then placing his fists on the table said,
“Lack of reverence for the Eucharist. That is what she said was the biggest problem with the world today.”
The words of Mother Teresa would certainly be a timely piece of advice to the Sisters of Loretto who are taking on roles as protesters of a new proposed natural gas pipeline in rural Kentucky. They were approached by the company building the pipeline, and asked if their 780-acre plot in Marion County could be surveyed. “Not at this time nor ever,” came the reply.
Following that encounter, the Sisters went on the offensive. On August 8th, the Sisters went to a community center of some sort and, in street clothes, began to chant and sing loudly. “This isn’t about fighting big corporations, this is about saving our heritage.” says Sister Maria Visse a member of the community since 1955.
That heritage began 200 years ago, when the Sisters were founded with a “special mission…to educate poor children in the area.” Now, the sisters describe the near 800-acre plot as “a sacred bound with their faith.”
The pipeline itself is an interesting question, but what is more interesting is the nuns who have chosen to protest and the manner in which they are doing it. A brief clip from the video shows a red and white protest sign sitting in a chapel pew. That in one image is the real problem with this news story; it is the eclipsing of an authentic monastic life for a life of slavery, spent protesting the evils of the world.
Prayer is a beautiful communication with God. Protest is a shrill expression of one’s own will over the voice and will of another. They couldn’t be farther apart. I think Mitch Hedberg said it best when he mused, “I’m against picketing, but I don’t know how to show it.”
The Church is not opposed to the environment. The Genesis narratives outline the role of humans as being stewards of God’s creation, naming the animals and having dominion over them. But, as is noted in the Vatican II Constitution Gaudium et Spes, the sin of Eve, which has stained humanity in original sin, was the placing of creation over creator. The proper relationship is found in the life of St. Francis, who, though he is remembered as a tree-hugging hippie by many, was deeply devoted to Jesus and even bore the marks of the crucifixion after a mystical vision of Christ. Further, St. Francis was somewhat of a rebel, calling monastic life back to the Christ-centered focus it is supposed to have.
The Sisters of Loretto could use such a person at this time. From the video, two things are clear; the nuns have forgone their habits in favor of street clothes and they are aging. Sister Maria Visse, who does most of the talking in the video, is clearly one of, if not the youngest nuns of the Sisters of Loretto. A glance around their lunchroom reveals wheelchairs, white hair and thick glasses.
This is strange because many young women I have met are taking on a new interest in monastic life. Those that decide to make their vows tend to do so with orders that are considered by popular culture to be more “conservative”. These orders are known by their tradition habits, and almost excessive joy. Compare the Sisters of Loretto, in their street clothes and old age to these nuns, The Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist. Notice that in the Dominican Sisters, both young and old are joyful together. Look closely and you can see the novitiates who are in the process of discerning their call to the monastic life. These nuns are joyful. These nuns are praising God, and none of them are talking to the camera crew.
The Sisters of Loretto are an interesting case, because they are very vocal about an outside threat (the pipeline) harming or destroying their community. The irony is that there is already something worse within the walls. A loss of orthodoxy, expressed by wearing street clothes and being more concerned about problems of the modern world than about God, always causes a loss of grace and vitality. Of this problem they are both the authors and the victims. While the Huffington Post praises the nun’s heritage, which dates back to 1812, the real question is the nun’s future. Sister Maria Visse worries the pipeline might explode and damage the land. Sadly, I think the Sisters will have already died out, long before the pipeline ever becomes a problem.