I can’t stop thinking about a recent article I read in The New York Times, titled “Nuns Weigh Response to Scathing Vatican Rebuke” [http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/us/us-nuns-weigh-response-to-scathing-vatican-critique.html?pagewanted=all]. Maybe you have been reading for the past year or so about the growing estrangement and tension between the Vatican and women religious, particularly American nuns. Here is the quote from the article that has stayed with me: “What is in essence a power struggle between the nuns and the church’s hierarchy had been building for decades, church scholars say. At issue are questions of obedience and autonomy, what it means to be a faithful Catholic and different understandings of the Second Vatican Council.
Sister Pat Farrell, the president of the Leadership Conference, said in an interview that the Vatican seems to regard questioning as defiance, while the sisters see it as a form of faithfulness” [my emphasis].
What is the role of questioning in one’s religious life? One response, I suppose, could be taken from a page in Benedict’s playbook: you could argue that any questioning of traditional teachings, scriptural interpretation, practices, etc. is a dangerous threat to truth and order, which must be stamped out firmly and unequivocally. But really, does anyone think that is productive or helpful? Does anyone think it is even possible?! I don’t. While I do understand that questioning can be challenging, and I don’t think that everyone simply should make her own rules when it comes to religious practice and belief, I also believe that God really works in and through our questions. In the challenges that we raise to our faith, often in response to the challenges life has raised for us, we engage in an active dialogue with God, with our religious communities, and with our brothers and sisters–both within the church and without. And when we come through on the other side–maybe changed, maybe scarred–we are stronger, our faith is stronger, and our relationships are stronger. When we ask questions of our faith, what we are saying is that our faith matters, the church makes a difference in our lives, and we want our relationship with God to be at the center of all we are and all we do. If you never ask a question of your faith, it means you simply aren’t paying attention, or you just don’t care anymore. Is that the kind of attitude we want to foster in the church?