BY JOANNA MOORHEAD
The times are a-changing
THE CHANGES BROUGHT about by Vatican H in one American community of nuns is the theme of a a challenging and powerful Seeds of Faith (Radio 4, Sunday, 11.30pm), when Rosemary Hardtl talks to SrJoan Chittister, former head of the Conference of Benedictine Superiors in the USA.
When Sr Joan became a novice at the age of 16, the Pennsylvania convent to which she belonged was virtually unrecognisable to the community she leads today. Even a new tube of toothpaste could not be obtained without the express permission of the Mother Superior, and women who were day by day running huge hospitals and taking lifeand-death decisions had their mail opened and read and almost all their personal life run for them.
After the Second Vatican Council this way of life seemed increasingly outmoded, and Sr Joan and her contemporaries set about changing things. Like religious throughout the world, they examined their order's charism and looked anew at whether the lives they were leading in the mid-20th century married with their founders' origanal aims. Often, it seemed to the nuns, brothers and priests that the two did not tie up: as a result old guidelines were re-interpreted, and new goals set. For Sr Joan and her order, traditional teaching gave way to a wider view of education in which the lesson was the evil and futility of war, and the classroom was the whole neighbourhood. The convent began distributing religious cards showing, on one side, Mary Queen of Peace, and on the other warnings about the reality of nuclear war. Joan and her sisters became active campaigners, and frequent demonstrators, in the anti-war movement.
To many traditional Catholics, it all seemed a bit difficult to stomach. Suddenly a group of nuns, who had hitherto been meekness itself, became major and controversial players on the political scene. Many who had supported them felt unable to go on doing so.
Rosemary Hartill's interview with Sr Joan reveals that, though it may sometimes have seemed like foolish madness, the new and courageous direction taken by the Pennsylvania Benedictines was the product of many hours of prayer and deep soul-searching. What Vatican 11 set in motion wasn't a sudden and wacky overthrow of all that had gone before, but a much-considered and genuine attempt to re-fashion the community along more spiritual and even more Christian lines.
ON ANOTHER NOTE, if you're a regular reader of this column you may be interested (or indeed, saddened) to hear that this is the last in the longrunning series. However, the Herald is not abandoning its commitment to keeping you abreast of TV and radio programmes in future we'll bring you more in-depth features on programmes of specifically Catholic interest.
So though Broadcast News will no longer be a weekly feature it should, when it does occasionally appear, be twice as fascinating!