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
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?
I was thinking about all this while
I was reading Margaret Guenther's book, At Home in the World. She is
talking about the value of formulating a "rule of life" for today,
and in the chapter on study, this is what she says. "Perhaps even more
important is the application of our intellect to our faith. It may be
disturbing to bring a certain rigor and discipline to the study of Scripture,
to wrestle with its inconsistencies and let our old certainities be challenged.
The good news here is that God is strong enough to withstand our poking and
prodding, maybe even delights in it as a loving parent enjoys being poked and
prodded by that inquisitive toddler who likes to push buttons. An unexamined
faith is a dangerous faith; false gods are all around us, alive and alluring.
When we think that we have God all figured out and that we are infallible
interpreters of God's will, we are in trouble."
I'm confident that God would rather
be poked than ignored, so when it comes to questions of faith, I say,
"fire away." The church can only get stronger invigorated by
faithful, questioning members. As Guenther says, "Just as an unexamined
life is not worth living, so an unexamined faith is not worth having."