The Rise of the Nuns

Sister Cristina Scuccia performs during the Italian State RAI TV show final "The Voice of Italy" in Milan on June 5, 2014. The 25-year-old nun is already a talent show sensation thanks to her habit-clad performances but also has on her side the critics, who say her popularity stems from novelty value.  AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLO        (Photo credit should read MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images)

Sister Cristina Scuccia performs during the Italian State RAI TV show final “The Voice of Italy” in Milan on June 5, 2014. AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLO (Photo credit should read MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images)

By Joe LaGuardia

Everyone is making a stink out of the rise of the “nones,” people who do not subscribe to any organized faith or denomination.

What about the rise of the “nuns”?

A bad pun with a nun?  Not quite.  The Catholic Church in England and Whales is claiming a 25-year record for women recruitment in holy orders.   Seems that the Catholic Church is growing in a most unusual way.

Here in Rockdale County, I heard that Father Randy was leaving us and departing St. Pius X Catholic Church.  When the news broke, I wondered how long St. Pius might hobble along without a priest.  It is no mystery that the number of priests has waned in recent years, although the number of seminarians preparing for the priesthood has increased and posit a more hopeful future for tomorrow’s Catholic church.

Other thoughts ran through my head:  If the Vatican would only let priests get married, maybe more would become available.

And if the Vatican ever allowed women to be ordained to the priesthood, there might not be any shortage at all.   According to my friend in Decatur, a nun of some 60 years, I am not alone in this assessment.

Little did I know that women have been entering convents and other “contemplative communities” in record numbers across the Pond.  Reasons and theories vary:

Some say its because people realize that the meaning of life can only be found in the womb of the church.

Higher-ups in the Church pat themselves on the back and claim that charismatic priests and bishops are monopolizing and marketing the strengths of cloistered living, including the trendy notion that the priesthood can change the world in ways that can be quantified and qualified.

Others cite frustrations surrounding relationships, sex, and intimacy (or lack thereof).

An article with the BBC quotes novice Theodora Hawksley as saying,  “If our society is obsessed with money, sex and power and the games people play with them, then vows of poverty chastity and obedience represent a profound freedom. That’s what has drawn me to religious life.  It’s not a fleeing from the world – it’s a finding your place in it.”

Nor can we keep God out of the picture.  For all of the ways (and often times, the gimmicks) churches use to grow, gain members, and attract people to full-time ministry, its the Holy Spirit that does the transforming, convincing, and convicting.

We saw this years ago at Trinity Baptist Church when we were affirming our core values of being a place that emphasized inter-generational worship, social justice, and inclusivity.

Back then, we felt we were going against the grain of congregational development and growth, but now we find numerous articles describing how young people are attracted to churches that have similar core values in place, Catholic Churches not withstanding.

Perhaps I’m getting too spiritual here.  Maybe its just something in the water in England.  Perhaps there is just the right group of women who came along at the right time to convince so many other women (many under the age of 30) to enter an alternative life that values celibacy, obedience, and poverty.

We are not sure, but we are certain that trends are finicky things — (Have you heard about the African American lesbian physical fitness trainer in Philadelphia who is finishing her last year of seminary to become a rabbi?  You’ll have to Google that one yourself.)

And, at the end of the day, I’m just a Baptist.  When it comes to all things Catholic, what do I know?  It’s none (or, is it “nun”?) of my business anyway.  (Now that was a bad pun!)

On behalf of Trinity Baptist Church, we want to welcome Father Greg Goolsby to St. Pius X.  May we share ministry together, transform our community for the sake of Christ, and work for the common good of all, attracting people to the light of God rather than our own agendas.  Amen.

Advertisements

Halloween and the Clash of Religion

charlieBy Joe LaGuardia

For this week’s article, I researched the background of Halloween and All Saints Day.  After spending about an hour online, I found myself enjoying the research more than anything else because reading about these two holidays was like following Alice into that mysterious rabbit hole.  I didn’t know where I would end up.

It did not take long, however, before I discovered one simple truth about October 31: Halloween is a time in which various religious traditions clash and form a cultural quagmire of superstition and the sacred.  Allow me to explain.

Halloween is an ancient pagan holiday rooted in Druid and Celtic sects of Ireland.  It includes all of the superstitious beliefs for which Halloween is known, in particular the visitation by ghosts, spirits, the (un)dead, and the like on humanity’s earthly realm.  In the words of at least one online documentary, it was a time in which the season of life met the season of death, when the boundary between this world and the next became so thin, souls were able to venture to and fro.

The holiday also included celebrations for the summer harvest.  Since the days turned darker around autumn, the Celts celebrated the time of reaping the produce of the ground, storing foodstuffs in time for winter, and enacting religious rites to prepare for the upcoming months.   Halloween was a way of protecting these ancient tribesmen from that which haunted them in their darkest hour, namely famine or freezing or both.  They lit bonfires (now we light jack-o-lanterns) to ward off the dark and adorned costumes in order to fool evil spirits.  Creepy stuff for sure.

When the Catholic Church stumbled upon all things Halloween in the fourth century, the Church found many of those Celtic practices unacceptable for obvious reasons.  Pope Boniface IV stripped the holiday of all its pagan practices (the Catholic Church did the same for Saturnalia, which became Christmas, and Eoaster, or Easter) and replaced it with All Saint’s  or All-Hallow’s (all holy) Eve.

To this day, Christians celebrate All Saint’s Day on November 1.

That’s a long story made short, but there’s more.  Protestant Reformers in Germany came along and preferred neither Halloween nor All Saints Day.  Instead, they made October 31 Reformation Day.

Since many people in the United States are not willing to worship on October 31 because of all the Halloween hype, many churches simply dedicate the Sunday before Halloween as Reformation Sunday and the Sunday after as All Saints.

If you’re courageous, you can use this week as an excuse to worship twice.  Take our brothers and sisters at Epiphany Lutheran Church helmed by a new pastor, the Reverend David Armstrong-Reiner, for example: They celebrated Reformation Sunday last Sunday (no good Lutheran would miss it!), and they will celebrate All Saints tomorrow evening around 7 PM (call the church to confirm the time).  Now that’s a worship-filled congregation right there!

Suffice it to say, the last week of October is one in which many faith traditions intersect.  You may be a Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or a Protestant, but we all hold something in common today: it is a time to remember the heroes and heroines of our faith.

You may choose to remember the pillars of the Church—Martin Luther, St. Patrick, or Mother Teresa to name a few.  Or you can choose to remember someone more personal: Grandma and Grandpa whose faith sparked your own belief in Jesus, or you may champion your old youth pastor who might have been a catalyst for your salvation.

There is nothing inherently wrong with remembering and celebrating the lives of our saints.  Even God is big on remembering the ancients; in the Old Testament He declared repeatedly that He is “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

You may call today what you will—Halloween, All Saint’s Eve, Reformation Day, or just another good, ole’ Friday night—but at least be sure to thank God for giving us saints whom we can remember, admire, and cherish in our hearts.

A version of this article was originally published on Baptist Spirituality in October of 2009.