I was picking up a friend who was arriving at Newark Penn Station and they were waiting there to catch a train to D.C.
I hadn't realized how much I miss them and had forgotten just how much I enjoyed working with them.
You know how that happens, sometimes? Gosh, it was good to be with them again.
Ever since, I've had the lyrics to this song running around in my head.
Irving Berlin wrote it, of course, for the film "White Christmas". I sometimes wonder what he was really thinking when he penned the lyrics.
Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sistersThere, now that that's out of my system, perhaps that song will leave me alone and go haunt someone else.
- Never had to have a chaperone, "No sir"
- I'm here to keep my eye on her
Caring, sharing ev'ry little thing that we are wearing
- When a certain gentleman arrived from Rome
- She wore the dress and I stayed home
The Sisters and I chatted for oh, 15, maybe 20 minutes. They were heading out to a conference on the whole kerfuffle about Rome's "investigation" of their orders. They were, predictably, disgusted.
One of them said it felt like a one-two punch to the heart. Last December, the Vatican announced an "apostolic visitation of the 340 religious women's orders to see how well they are "living in fidelity" to the church's guidelines for religious life.
As if that weren't insulting enough, the second probe, initiated in February, moved from 'evaluation' to 'investigation'. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — which enforces theological purity — is investigating the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group that represents about 90 percent of women's orders.
"This is about Vatican II," said one, "Absolutely."
"They want to reverse it - bring the church back into the 'traditional line'," said another, "And they know the best, most efficient way to do that is to try to rein in the women religious."
"Fat chance!" said another. "Look what we were able to do in helping to promote the Health Care Reform Bill. That," she sniffed proudly, "despite the displeasure of the Catholic Bishops. We may be shrinking in numbers but we are still mighty," she laughed as several of her Sisters joked about "The Incredible Shrinking Women."
As they all shared the silly joke, I felt myself instantly caught up in the music of their laughter.
It was the thing I loved about the nuns of my youth - the fact that they could wear those ridiculous habits that pinched at their face and neck and endure the oppressive of the RC institutional church and the patronizing, dismissive, often disrespectful treatment by the RC priests, and still be joyful.
It seemed to me the best revenge.
One of the nuns, realizing that our time was limited, quickly got 'round to the recent scandal, now reaching the highest levels of the Vatican - even to the Pope himself.
Each one, to a person, covered her eyes momentarily in shame at the mere mention of the issue. "Hey, wait, wait," I said, reaching out to them, "You don't have to do that with me. I get it. I know the same stories you do."
One of them flew right into my arms, giving me a grateful hug. When I looked up again, I realized that I was not the only woman with tears in her eyes.
"What is shameful," said one sister, "is that the institution is still blind to their complicity in the abuse. This is not about the 'rebellious American Church'. It's a worldwide scandal. And, it's not about celibacy. It's not about homosexuality. This is RAPE and RAPE is not about sexuality - it's about using sex as a vehicle of power. Corrupt power. The shame is on them. Not us."
There were silent nods and murmurs of agreement all around.
I asked what they thought of the Archbishops in Newark and New York.
"Oh, they are not going to help this. At. All," said one. "We know one clergy who has been very helpful with the victims. He's doing holy, blessed, sacred work, but he's being treated like a pariah by his brothers as well as his bishops. It's disgraceful. He comes to our house all the time, just for spiritual respite and replenishment."
"He's doing God's work, for God's sake!," said another, "And this is the way they treat him? Disgusting!"
"Oh, I'm sure we'll be 'investigated' for that!" said the first. And, they all giggled and snorted again and chimed in with their own jokes so quickly I could hardly keep up.
"Special space on the Official Vatican Report Card . . . ."
"Harbors priests who help victims? CHECK!"
"Still uses music from St. Louie Jesuits? CHECK"
"Uses Gregorian Chant? NOOOOOOOOO.. . ."
They were cracking themselves up with their own special brand of "nun humor".
"Oh," said my one of my absolute favorite nuns - intelligent, well educated, a heart of absolute, pure gold - "and if we have to endure one more patronizing 'God-bless-you, Sister-verbal-pat-on-the-head' I swear I'm going to say something!"
"No, you won't," said another. "We won't let you. That won't help anything."
"Well, then," she said defiantly but with a definite twinkle of mischief in her eye, "You'll just have to make sure to keep some tissues around. When 'Father' starts with that dismissive, patronizing 'God Bless you, Sister' stuff, it always makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit."
That set off peals of absolutely delightful laughter. I found myself riding the sound of it back to the memories of my youth. But this time, I was on the inside of the joke being told. It was a pretty heady experience.
All too soon their boarding time was announced and it was time to bid them adieu. We promised to meet for coffee soon. I'm already planning to take some time in June and spend an overnight retreat with them at the convent.
We'll have a chance to do some talking, catch up with each other, and maybe one of them will hear my confession. I'll pray the office with them and sing with them.
Some St. Louie Jesuit stuff, fer sure. "City of God" by Dan Schutte. John Foley's, "Come to the Water." And almost anything by Marty Haugen.
It will be like Dick Clark's American Bandstand Top 40 for former Roman Catholics.
Later, after dinner, I might even sing "Sisters, sisters" for them - especially the last line: "God help the mister who comes between me and my sister. And God help the sister, who comes between me and my man."
Of course, we'll all understand that 'man' as Jesus. I'll have made a 'nun joke' of my own. And, we'll all laugh and laugh and laugh.
Just like we used to.
And, need to.
More than we might know.