This article was originally published in our January 2019 issue
Women in Third World countries undoubtedly find in the Church a very important possibility for education and professional preparation, which is unique in many places. Obviously, this possibility also applies to those who choose the religious life, a choice that often comes to fruition in the schools they attend, which are run by nuns. This access to education is an important possibility; one might even call it a requirement of one’s mission as a woman. This is even truer for religious called to serve throughout the world, who have the right and the duty to be well trained, well prepared to carry out the service required of them. However, unfortunately the scholastic preparation of women religious is decidedly inadequate. Just three years of formation for the consecrated life, and for many the study stops there, with the obvious consequence that their destination will be domestic service and hard work.
Then there are those who manage to continue thanks to scholarships and who perfect their studies, usually in Rome. The latter can be divided into two categories: those who have received scholarships and are hosted by colleges attached to universities and those who have their mother houses in the West and are sent there to study. The latter are generally obliged to study and attend courses without suspending their life in service, which is the manual work to which their institute would otherwise assign them. On the whole, however, study grants too little time for religious women to prepare, which does not include the period necessary to learn the language in which the lessons are held and the necessary acclimatization to new subjects and new methods of study. Instead, this time is usually granted to priests and seminarians, who are never subjected to the obligation of housework. In essence, this is a study offer of a much lesser nature than that enjoyed by men, as if the education of women were an optional and secondary problem.
Today, the times have changed, and women wish to occupy leadership positions like men, as they know they have been created in the image and likeness of God. Women religious living in their communities must have time available for study and be free to make programs or plans, because study is a time of preparation for service to the Church. The more prepared we have women religious, the better we can do our service. I am well aware that the three years of formation for consecrated life are not enough and cannot be enough to understand what service to the Church is how it should be done, and why it should be done.
Our priority is not to fill posts, but to form persons capable of giving the best of themselves, because you cannot give to others what you do not have, as the Italian proverb says, “The barrel gives the wine it has”. Consecrated persons must be given the time and the means to study well, so that they can get to know themselves and develop their self-esteem, to be able to appreciate the good qualities of others, to be demanding with themselves before being demanding with others, to be both objective and understanding. She who does not know herself sufficiently or who lacks self-esteem lives under the influence of fear: fear of not knowing herself, fear of her responsibility and fear of the freedom of others. In a word, fear of herself and her inner emptiness. This personal insecurity does not help the religious in her apostolate; on the contrary, it leads her almost inevitably to behave with rigidity, severity, fixation, strictness and inflexibility with others.
These things are well known, but I repeat them because too often a sisters’ study is seen as time wasted, as if the sister, by studying, would lose her sense of obedience and humility. Unfortunately, this is still the opinion that many people have of the sisters who study, because they believe that after studying the sister gets a headache. Nevertheless, in my limited experience I can say that studying has helped me to understand the deeper meaning of service, to perceive others’ difficulties. Therefore, I am very grateful to my Superior who gave me this possibility. One cannot exalt the aspect of Jesus the servant too much, forgetting the same Jesus the teacher who taught in the temple. This is to say that there is what could be called the apostolate or intellectual service too.
First, we ask Mother Church to make a great commitment to the formation of women religious, to the sisters capable of making radical choices for Christ and for the dignity of women. We need to train women religious who are fighters, who have the courage to denounce and say no to anti-values, which humiliate women and impoverish the meaning and value of religious consecration. The Church needs women religious who can do intellectual service at all levels to rediscover the authentic value of service.
by RITA MBOSHU KONGO
Daughters of Mary Most Holy Coredemptrix