The Table

Vigilers outside the Vatican Embassy, May 29

For the past several weeks, I’ve been helping to organize the local Nunjustice vigils in Washington, DC.  I’ve been struck each week at the signs I see here in D.C. and from the pictures across the country depicting nuns.  Sisters have been described as the “backbone” and the “heartbeat” of the Church, “the face” and “the hands and the feet” of Christ.  It’s led me to understand the classic Catholic saying “we are the Body of Christ,” in a whole new light.

photo credit Ted Majdosz

Of course, I’m happy that the Vatican document has ignited a flame in the Church reform and social justice movements.  The unprecedented events at the Vatican Embassy this week were truly awe-inspiring and humbling.  But I think this new lifeblood has implications that go far beyond these circles.  To explain, I’ll paint a picture of what it was like to be an undergraduate at the Catholic University of America.

As one of the very few liberal students at CUA, I was challenged on a daily basis by my conservative classmates on matters of Catholic theology.  As a young person with a lot of energy, I dove into these debates and arguments with vigor as I was challenged to defend what I believed.  Almost invariably, the exchange would come to an impasse when I would speak on how our faith calls us to act for justice, to be of service, and to do these from a place of personal sacrifice.  The conservative student (usually a young man) would throw up his hands and say sheepishly, “I’m just not that good.”

It was heartbreaking to know that someone brought up as Catholic could have this level of low self-esteem and such a lack of hope and vision, for themselves and for the world.  But I believe it was ultimately beneficial for these debates to happen—for those words and these students’ truths to come out.  As Brene Brown says, feelings of shame thrive on silence and secrecy, and can only be healed by bringing them out into the light of day.  Once these students spoke their truths and had to own them, I believe it planted a seed of possibility of one day being able to question these truths.

Vigilers in Chicago, May 29

Similarly today, I’m not only heartened by the comments I see from like-minded Catholics, but I also appreciate the value of the entire discourse, from every perspective, that I see in the articles, blog posts, and comments surrounding this issue.  We are all the Body of Christ, and this atmosphere of disagreement, tension, and struggle truly gives me hope.  Take heart!  We are alive and on fire with the Spirit!  We are in tension with one another, yes, but this tension and struggle and movement can only encourage us to become more fully alive as a living, breathing, and thinking Body.

I often tell myself that my experiences at CUA, both the challenges from conservative students and the tight-knit community I formed with the handful of liberal students, helped to push me more to the left than if I’d gone to a liberal Jesuit university.  Another blessing that can come out of this healthy debate and disagreement is the expanding of our vision, or as the Catholic Workers say, the “clarification of thought,” of leading those of us on the liberal end of the spectrum further down the path of justice.  I pray that we continue to be nourished and enlivened by the Spirit, and that we as people of the Church continue to be opened and awakened to God’s radical vision of peace, justice, and inclusive community.

The sisters have long been faithful witnesses to this prophetic vision.  May we lift up their example of integrity and conviction, and may we have the courage to also follow the call of Christ.

Margaret Johnson at the Vatican Embassy, May 29











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Margaret Johnson is a Former Jesuit Volunteer and former member of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker.  She is currently an intern at the Women’s Ordination Conference and lives in Washington, DC.




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