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“The Vatican has released an instruction with new norms for contemplative orders of nuns. Nuns must use Facebook, Twitter and other social media with “sobriety and discretion” according to a new document released by the Vatican.”

So reports the UK Tablet

Three of the four female Doctors of the Church were monastic women: Theresa of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen and Therese of Lisieux all lived and prayed in their cloisters, mostly apart from the daily noise, although they always kept up with the news and wrote and corresponded with vigor. The fourth, Catherine of Siena, was a third-order Dominican who advised Popes, Kings and Queens when she was not serving plague victims.

In general, religious women are pretty sharp cookies. In modernity, most of them are well-educated, but even in past times the women who have served the Catholic church through prayer and action have been an intelligent and creative lot, paradoxically bold in Christ and humble within his Church. As I’ve written elsewhere, religious women pretty much pretty much invented the notion of social services, and they have almost always used their power very wisely.

That’s why it’s always a little surprising to see the sorts of instructions that come down to our female religious from the authorities in Rome; there always seems to be that note of head-patting condescension, the warning to be “discreet and sober” which only seems to go one way. I don’t see male monastics, for instance, being similarly guided in the way of common sense.

Silence is, of course, essential to a life of contemplation and prayer but the monastics I know all seem keenly mindful of this. They all seem quite aware (and protective) of their need to cultivate and maintain a general sense of quiet, both interior and exterior, in order to do their great work of prayer, which supports the rest of us.

So, I don’t blame Sr. Catherine Wybourne, OSB, (@DigitalNun) for being a little annoyed by some of the content in Cor Orans (“The Praying Heart”), the Vatican’s follow-up instruction to the Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere (“Seeking the Face of God”)

Sr. Catherine and her community continue the Benedictine tradition of engaging the culture through the scriptorium, but in a digital mode, as it were. They’ve been blogging for over a decade, and Sister, who is currently dealing with serious illness, still manages to write wise, pithy, spiritually challenging posts with regularity. Of Cor Orans, she notes with her characteristic forthrightness:

[The document] assures us, with dreadful earnestness, that nuns may now use Social Media ‘with sobriety and discretion.’ Of course I agree with the need for discretion, but having been using Social Media for about ten years — probably longer than many of the clergy and others who felt it necessary to give nuns guidance on the matter — my main reaction is a mixture of despair and irritation. Despair, because yet again the Vatican shows itself to be out of touch with the reality of women’s (i.e. not just nuns’) lives, and in seeking to control is in danger of losing whatever moral authority it still commands; irritation, because with all the world’s problems, to devote time and energy to something that I think most nuns have already thought and prayed about sufficiently to have arrived at a sensible decision regarding its appropriate use, is embarrassing.

It hurts to say I am embarrassed by the Church to which I belong and her heavy-handed approach to facets of modern life that she should be embracing, not condemning or viewing with suspicion. It seems to be only a few years ago that we nuns laughed about being given permission to use fax machines, with due discretion and limitations, naturally, and were tempted to email our response, only the Vatican wasn’t using email at the time!

Read the whole thing — it’s pretty brief. Sister is pithy but always packs a punch. And do pray for her. This faithful and brilliant woman has been quietly (“soberly and discreetly”) dealing with cancer for several years, now.

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