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Happy Birthday, Greg!

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I know, I know.  I should have started this post earlier today, but I was too fascinated by the event playing out on my television set–a My Little Pony marathon, which is the way Greg wants to spend his birthday.

If you’ve never seen this thing, all I can tell you is that it ought to be classified as a form of terrorism.  It’s so twee, I wanted to throw acid in its face.

On the other hand, it did put an end to the manic dancing around the living room declaring himself “an adult!”   I have been informed that neither I nor anybody else is any longer allowed to see his grades or discuss his progress without his permission, or talk to his doctors unless he says I can, or…

I have pointed out that I’m still paying for everything, and if I wasn’t he’d be in the soup–but apparently that isn’t mentioned in the law.

He looked it up on the Internet.

So, I retreated in here, prepatory to making the kid the biggest batch of curry I ever have.

While I’m waiting for that, though, I thought I’d clear up some things–especially some things about “nuns.”  The quotes are necessary, because the women most of us have learned to called “nuns” are not “nuns” under Roman Catholic Canon Law–they’re only “religious sisters.”  The term “nun” is restricted to women who take solemn vows and are therefore cloistered–they don’t teach or nurse or do any other work in the world.

But first, a bit of cultural adjustment is in order–in the US, there is no legal requirement that any business provide any kind of benefit for their employees.  Some businesses offer employee pensions, some don’t.  Some offer health care coverage, some don’t.

The Obama health care bill requires employers with 50 employers or more to offer health insurance–but like a lot of other things about the bill, it’s being contested in the courts.  We’ll see how that works out.

But, back to the nuns.

The women we call nuns didn’t exist in the Catholic Church until the Counterreformation.   Until then, all orders of religious women were cloistered.  The women who joined those orders did not teach or nurse or do any of the things we think of “nuns” as doing.

And, to this day,  the women who teach and nurse and all the rest of it are not nuns in the Catholic Church–they are “women religious” or “religious sisters,” and they take what are known as “simple” rather than “solemn” vows.

It took nearly a century for the Vatican to approve of such orders.  Before that, it tended to feel that “women religious” working in the world would give rise to scandal.  They weren’t being entirely paranoid.  The promiscuity of nuns was one of the great charges of the Protestant reformers.

On top of that, a religious order is not an employer.  Women do not join religious orders, and religious orders do not admit women, in order to do some kind of secular work. 

Religious orders exist “for the greater glory of God,” and their primary function is always the worship and honor of God.  Anything else they do is secondary.

Every once in a while I’ll run across an essay by a secular writer who is totally shocked to have found out just this about Mother Teresa–she didn’t really go out to help the poor!  she thought it was more important to worship God!

Yep.  That’s how that works.

And the orders are very careful to explain to young women wanting to join that although their “apostolate” may be teaching or nursing, joining the order does NOT mean that you will ever get to be a teacher or a nurse.

Young women who join religious orders are required to spend at least some time on probation, between 3 and 9 years, depending on the order.  First they are postulatnts.  Then they are novices.  The they are “tertiary professed” (they make a vow to the God and the Church to stick with the order and live under its rule for three years).  Only after all that do they take “final vows,” in which they promise to stay with the order and live under its rule for life. 

Final vows are considered to be a serious thing in the Catholic Church, and even now it can be very difficult to get released from them.  For most orders, it would require an okay from Rome.  If you just walk out, you are functionally excommunicate–you can no longer receive the sacraments in a Catholic Church.  And it’s the kind of excommunicate you can’t get rid of just by going to Confession.

Consider the fact that you CAN get rid of the automatic excommunication after an abortion just by going to Confession.

Up until the 1970s, the system worked on the same lines as it had since the 18th century and it worked rather well.

You joined the order at 18, right out of high school, and spent the first three years (one postulant, two novice) at the motherhouse.  Then the order packed you off to education–nurse’s training, teacher training, college pre-med (several orders trained some of their sisters as doctors) and medical school, whatever.

And the order paid for it.  All of it.  Every last dime. 

The order then sent you out to the institutions it ran, or to institutions with which it was contracted (Catholic hospitals run by other religious orders, for instance).

You got paid absolutely nothing.  You got room and board, and that was it.  You were expected to have no money on your person unless you were authorized to have it for some authorized, specific purpose.

In most cases, your order wasn’t paid for your services, either.  It took in donations, and kept the institutions running on those.  In the case of parish schools, it got the convent and room and board for the sisters, and otherwise charged–again–absolutely nothing.

For years, this made it possible for the Catholic Church to provide services for poor and working class people at incredibly low cost.  Tuition at parish parochial schools was rock bottom cheap, so that even families with six or ten children could get them through.  Catholic colleges were often rock bottom cheap, too–the Jesuits used to make a point of it. 

Anyway, you went on that way until you got old, and then when you were ready to retire you went back to the motherhouse and lived out the rest of your life.  Your food and shelter and books and companionship and medicine were all taken care of.

And that ran into a wall after Vatican II, when sisters began leaving their orders in droves, and the supply of young women looking to joing up slowed to a trickle.

Without younger sisters to support older sisters, there was often nobody to support older sisters in orders that had never thought twice about money and had never charged much of anything for their services.

Which meant, of course, that they also hadn’t paid into the Social Security System.

So, these day, the orders charge just like anybody else, parochial schools are expensive and a Catholic hospital is run pretty much like any other hospital–and, if you ask me, the world is a poorer place for it.

But no, I don’t think it’s “disgraceful” that religious orders don’t provide pensions for nuns or monks or sisters who leave, whether they’ve done a job or not.

They signed up to pray, not to work.  It wasn’t a job to begin with.

I think I hear a break in the My Little Pony thing…

Written by janeh

January 14th, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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