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Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Nuns on the Bus

Anyone who has read this blog knows that I was educated by nuns and, in fact, have a deep admiration for them.  Oh to be sure, they were strict and employed liberal use of physical punishment (usually a crack on the knuckles with a ruler), and they were no strangers to "shame and blame". Truth be told, these really weren't any different from the "parenting techniques" we knew at home.

Most of them were immigrants - either born "overseas" (in my neighborhood, mostly Ireland, Italy and Portugal) - or the first generation of immigrants born in this country. For most of them, the convent presented a way to live the American Dream of education and self-actualization while still providing a safe community of their peers in which to live out their religious values.

I have an aunt, now in her 80s, who joined the convent in her late teens and left the convent in her late 20s.  Her mission, and that of her order, was an orphanage where she worked as an LPN. Her life there redefined the term "self-sacrificial service".  Indeed, when she left on "medical leave" she had tuberculosis and was suffering from malnutrition.

She went home to her parents where she spent a year in recovery. When she tried to return to the convent, "Mother" told her that she would have to re-enter as a novice. She was deeply disappointed but refused to start all over again. Within two years, she met a man, fell in love and they had two children together.

I remember Sunday afternoon visits - especially in the summer - to see "Sr. Mary Augustine". We'd sit out on the lawn and play with "the orphans" and invite them to share in the feast we had brought.

My grandmother was delighted. Not only could she visit her daughter and have her family together, she was also sharing in the work of the Gospel in feeding "these poor things" - as she would call them in their presence as they (and we) cringed - while clucking that my aunt looked "too skinny" (Whatsa matta? You no get no food here? You hungry? Eat! Eat! C'mon, eat!)

As I look at the pictures of the "Nuns on the Bus," I recognize many of their faces. No, these were not the same nuns of my youth and they are not in the habits I remember, but I'd know their faces anywhere. My "nun-dar" is still highly accurate after all these years.

If I didn't recognize their faces and demeanor as nuns, I'd know them by their shoes. Black. Leather. Laced. Or, for those with arthritic fingers, Velcro straps.  In the summer, they sometimes get really crazy and wear white sneakers. Spotlessly clean, white sneakers.

These were the women who taught me that to be lukewarm about the Gospel was a sin against the very nature of Jesus Christ. They taught me that it wasn't enough to sing, "Jesus loves me, this I know," or to confess that you, in fact, loved Jesus - you had to put that love into action. And, they said, the best way to do that was to do something for "the poor".

They told us that while Jesus loved us, He loved the poor best. That was long before I learned that the foundational principle of liberation theology was "God's preferential option for the poor".

They not only taught it, they lived it and modeled it.

They are doing that now.

The "Nuns on the Bus" tour is traveling from Des Moines, IA to Washington, DC, making 25 other stops on the way.

They are hitting the road to raise awareness about the current current House Republican budget, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

"We do so," they say,  "because it harms people who are already suffering."

NETWORK (a RC political lobby group) Executive Director, Sister Simone Campbell, said in a recent media interview that Catholic Sisters “know the real-life struggles of real-life Americans.”  It is this knowledge that impelled us to organize this bus trip. When the federal government cuts funding to programs that serve people in poverty, we see the effects in our daily work. Simply put, real people suffer. That is immoral."

Atta girl, sister.

Predictably, these nuns have done their homework. You can visit their website and click on a link where the Sisters will be happy to tell you how the proposed Ryan Budget directly affects the states they will visit: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In a press release, NETWORK listed the ways in which the Ryan budget causes “harm” to Americans
• Undermining the food stamp program (SNAP) at a time when millions need it to feed their families
• Beginning to shift Medicare to a voucher program, thus driving more seniors into poverty
• Giving large tax breaks to the wealthy at the expense of protections for struggling families
• Drastically cutting funding for health insurance programs for low-income people, causing millions to lose access to healthcare
• Increasing Pentagon spending while cutting programs that serve people in need — despite the Pentagon saying there are military programs that should be cut.
Sr. Simone Campbell at the microphone
"Bill Moyers and Company" is traveling with them on their 15-day journey to spotlight social justice issues.  You can visit that website  and follow them in their travels.

As reported there, on the 19th of June,  the nuns rolled into the office of the budget’s namesake, Rep. Paul Ryan himself.  Ryan, a Catholic, has said his faith played a role in the drafting of his budget.
“The Holy Father himself, Pope Benedict, has charged [that] governments, communities and individuals running up high debt levels are ‘living at the expense of future generations, and living in untruth….
Our budget offers a better path consistent with the timeless principles of our nation’s founding and, frankly, consistent with how I understand my Catholic faith. We put faith in people, not in government.”
But Sister Simone Campbell, who organized the Nuns on the Bus tour, has a different interpretation, which she explained to "Moyer's and Company's" producer Andy Fredericks:
“Pope Benedict says that until people have justice you can’t give charity; justice is what is owed by society to a person, and charity is largesse above it….
We try to live in relation to people at the margins of society and lift all up for justice. Where there is one bit of injustice, we all suffer.”
Obviously, Rep. Ryan did not learn a fundamental lesson from the nuns of his youth: Never, ever argue scripture or religion with a nun. And, don't ever argue with them about what the Pope has said. These nuns listen. They listen to Jesus more seriously, but they also hear what the Vatican says.

They have to. You may have also heard that the male hierarchy of the Church, all the way up to the Vatican, have censured the sisters for “spending too much time and energy caring for the very poor instead of fighting against issues like abortion and marriage equality.”

I mean really! Where are their priorities?

I must say, when I think of that old evangelical litmus-test - "What would Jesus do?" - I have to confess that a wicked smile crosses my face.

I'm thinking Jesus would take out his whips and turn over some tables in The House, while resisting the urge to crack a few knuckles with a ruler. Then, he'd jump on the bus with those nuns.

Indeed, I have no doubt that He's with them every step of the way.

I'm with them, too, holding them in intentional prayer in the morning and in "arrow prayers" throughout the day.  I hope you'll join me.

Today, the 21st of June, they are visiting Chicago, IL and South Bend, IN. You can find their itinerary here.

Are YOU ready to roll for justice?

PS: You can also make a donation (not tax-deductible) here. 

If you prefer to mail your donation, please make your check out to NETWORK, put “Nuns on the Bus” in the memo, and mail it to:
25 E Street NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20001-1630
Because NETWORK lobbies the federal government, donations to NETWORK are not tax deductible. You may make a tax-deductible contribution to NETWORK’s educational partner organization, NETWORK Education Program and send your check to the same address as above.


Muthah+ said...

Sister says...Listen to the poor for the sake of your soul. Good advice and better than anything from the Vatican since Vatican II.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah+ You bet it is.

Anonymous said...

Gotta love the sisters. I do not recall what shoes the sisters wore at my school. It was during the transition period with some in full habits and others in everyday clothes. The Benedictine sisters at my school were loved and sometimes feared. You learned very early to never ever argue with Sister. Poor Ryan. Obviously he forgot about the righteous anger of a sister.

Anonymous said...

who is funding the nuns on the bus?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous - Please answer your own question (you obviously know) and, next time, leave your name instead of taking a cheap pot shot.