Jane Catholic is a wonderful woman. Sheâ€™s loyal to Rome, open to life, and sensitive to the needs of her immediate family, her circle of friends, and her parish. It took years to understand that the teachings of the Church were based on authentic love, and with the level of indulgence and sexual experimentation she sees in her childrenâ€™s school companions, she wants to be sure her own children know Godâ€™s truth in order to spare them heartache and moral disasters. She walks by faith and gives generously to those who will help build Godâ€™s kingdom.
Last week, she received a letter from such wonderful women, the consecrated ladies of Regnum Christi, who are living in what was previously an orphanage in northern Rhode Island. The old Saint Aloysius Home is certainly large enough to house this growing group, but dated properties have their expensive side.
Happy Easter! I hope these days of joyful celebration bring many graces to you and your family. We have completed our Lenten journey, helping Jesus to carry His cross, like Simon of Cyrene and experienced the love that Christ has for us. Both my conversation with family members and friends as well as the prayer intentions many people have sent to us have led me to pray more about the mystery of the cross as an inseparable companion on our lifeâ€™s journey. â€¦
The consecrated women at Mater Ecclesiae depend entirely on the support of many generous benefactors. We say it often, but the generosity of our benefactors is truly a sign of the Fatherâ€™s providence toward us. Weâ€™ve given up everything to follow Christ and serve the Church, but like everyone else, we still wake up hungry each morning and need to turn on the heat during the winter. Your past donations have helped to provide for all of our needs, from milk for cereal and book for studies, to doctor appointments and heating oil â€“ and we are truly grateful for your generosityâ€¦.
Many Catholic receive such letters from a variety of Christian witnesses in the field â€“ those evangelizing in Africa, those staffing soup kitchens in inner cities, and medical teams who bring comfort to those in dire need of the most basic care. Perhaps the letters are formulaic, but the need is universal. Apostles need material support, and their benefactors receive grace. Godâ€™s economy teaches us all to trust and cooperate.
Jane continues reading and the appeal becomes more specific:
But today I am asking you for a special need that we have. I would like to tell you about our Kitchen Renovation project. This need has become very urgent with the passing of time and increasing safety requirements.
As consecrated women the heart of our home is naturally the chapel. But like your family much of our family life is centered around meals: extraordinary celebrations throughout the year like Christmas and Easter but also the ordinary life of three meals a day, 7 days a week. Many of us have as part of our daily responsibility to prepare meals and so the efficiency of our kitchen is important, since it provides 120 women with 3 hot meals every day! Thatâ€™s over 130,000 meals a year!
Our kitchen was built in 1942 and most of the appliances were last updated in the 1960s. As the number of vocations has increased our current appliances and equipment have not kept up to the task at hand. We donâ€™t need the most expensive equipment but we need high quality equipment that will last. A great frustration now with the kitchen is that it is very difficult to keep it in order and clean because of its set up.
Let me tell you about some of the work we have planned. Frankly some of the remodeling is not very exciting: a new system of pipes, reworking the electricity, heating and cooling systemsâ€¦ Not exciting but very much needed especially if you consider that the water pipes have broken twice in the last 3 years. Other projects are much more appealing: the upgrade of sinks, refrigerators, freezers, stoves, a vegetable steamer and the renovation of 3 pantries.
In light of this, I now ask you to consider helping us with the financial support of the project. In order to renovate the kitchen this summer, we need to raise $700,000. We are asking our closest, more generous benefactors who have become part of the Mater Ecclesiae family to support us in the important endeavor. Would you be able to help us with a gift of $250? I know that this is a significant request, and it may require a sacrifice on your part, but your generosity in the past gives me the confidence to ask you to consider it. Since Mater Ecclesiae is a non-profit organization, all donations are tax-deductibleâ€¦.
Janeâ€™s breath is taken away — $250! These ladies are counting on her as part of a dedicated circle who know their hunger, their holiness, and their honesty. Money is tight, but perhaps Jane could wiggle around some of her familyâ€™s expectations and make this work. Sheâ€™ll take it to prayer.
What she takes with her to prayer is the love John Paul II obviously had for this group, the radiant faces of the consecrated women she has met (even the daughters of some friends), and their obvious sincere fidelity to the Church. None of these things could deceive her â€“ it was simply a matter of priorities.
What Jane cannot begin to bring to prayer is what she doesnâ€™t know. She has no idea of the deceptive details in the letter. She has indeed given money in the past, but this money has not gone for the medical care of these girls. Most of that comes from their families, but what doesnâ€™t is begged from local practitioners â€“ for these women are without any health insurance. In an age when health care decisions are paramount in all sectors of society, these girls leave their families with an understanding that they will have coverage of some sort, but they donâ€™t.
She also cannot know that the education that these women undergo â€“ often having opted to leave other distinguished schools and universities â€“ is not accredited. In an age when schools compete for students with all sorts of packages and benefits, these girls are promised an accredited education that doesnâ€™t exist. One can easily confirm this fact by contacting the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (www.neasc.org) which is the governing body, and which denies that they have such status.
Jane also imagines that the women divide their time between the kitchen and their other responsibilities, just as she does herself in order to feed her own family, but she hasnâ€™t been told that the meals are actually prepared by hired help â€“ often by immigrants who receive the typical low wages which they send home to help their families. This is no crime (as long as all paperwork is in order) but the letter indicated that the consecrated fix their own meals. Why the deception?
Jane knows as well as the next person that home repairs are insanely expensive. Sometimes one imagines that just buying a new house would be more cost effective than making the requisite upgrades, but how many properties are actually available which would house so many people â€“ complete with a chapel! Certain parameters have to be respected, no matter the cost. But if she knew some of the misleading details that this group is fond of promoting, then wouldnâ€™t she question the larger details? For if a group were capable of small deceptions, then how could it be trusted with the integrity of great projects?
If I could have a cup of coffee with Jane, I might ask her to consider the overall wealth of the Legionaries of Christ, their relationship with the consecrated women who serve their needs so effectively, and the disparity between the actual status of its priests and the sincere poverty of these women. They own nothing, they consider themselves married to Christ, and yet they enjoy no canonical oversights. They accept their status in trust, which is one of their predominant virtues. When their parents become concerned about their vocation, neither the local bishop from their home diocese nor the bishop of Providence has jurisdiction over what happens to them. If anyone wanted to prey on their good will, there is nothing to stop them, for any criticism or second guessing is immediately squelched in the name of â€œgospel charity.â€�
I might tell her about the depression in the ranks of these lovely women, who give without measure with dubious results to a questionable end. The end, indeed, has been coined â€œa parallel churchâ€� by one American Archbishop, who banned them from his diocese. I might tell her about the confusion I find in counseling those who have left, unsure of their canonical status, since they were once â€œespousedâ€� and have moved on. I might tell her about the grave concerns by the many local women in Rhode Island â€“ some of whom were previously members of Regnum Christi and who worked closely with the consecrated in since long abandoned projects.
Finally I would ask Jane to take this â€œurgent needâ€� with a grain of salt. Even if these select donors donâ€™t come up with the created sum of $700,000 these women will get their new kitchen. It may be piece-meal, it may come later, but they will eat. They know poverty, despite being a part of one of the most well-supported congregations within the Church, and if their plight became public, other funds would quickly be diverted to save face. There are many balls in the air â€“ properties, projects, plans â€“ and any one could be shelved temporarily if the women were hungry enough.
The consecrated women of Regnum Christi are the most lovely and compelling face of the Movement. They were front and center in countless papal audiences so that a saintly pope could read their sincere expressions of affection. They, of all segments of Regnum Christi have taken Christ at His word â€“ abandoning family, prospects of marriage and children, and living the evangelical counsels with as much perfection as they can muster. In an age of slick production and competing messages, they are the real thing â€“ and the Legionaries cannot afford for them to go home.
Relax Jane. The money will come, even without your heartfelt sacrifice.