Living across polarities: Being a church that heals

Novices of my Inter-Community Novitiate group celebrating the first profession of one of our members. (Joye Gros)

“Liberal Catholics” don’t care about liturgy or ritual, and “conservative Catholics” don’t care about social justice. You would never find the same person at a March for Life and a #blacklivesmatter rally. A sister would never wear a nose ring and a habit.

Each of these statements reflects a polarity that persists, if not in reality, at least in popular perception in our church. For the past year or so, I’ve been playing around with statements such as these (some serious and some silly) as a way of challenging stereotypes and questioning whether or not they contain any seeds of truth.

Through this process of questioning (and usually abandoning) these stereotypes, I have been invited by the Holy Spirit to embrace a very real and sometimes painful conversion, and it has happened in the only way conversion does come about: through relationship.

Over the past year I have encountered men and women religious from a variety of charisms, backgrounds and opinions. I have participated in an inter-community novitiate program, traveled to motherhouses and priories across the country, and engaged in formal and informal discussions about the vows and the witness of religious life in our day. It has been a year of encounter, and this encounter has fueled my discernment in new and beautiful ways — including, of course, the letting-go of my stereotypes.

Pope Francis has spoken repeatedly of this, of our need for a church that reaches out in relationship. In his first interview as pope, he urged: “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity . . . heal the wounds, heal the wounds.”

Our wounded church is a reflection of our wounded world, and religious life is no exception. Polarities exist in religious life just as much as anywhere in the church. Events like the LCWR doctrinal assessment have shaken trust between some women religious and the hierarchy. A complicated series of events has led to the existence of two conferences of women religious in this country. Sometimes those of us in religious orders can begin to compare and compete, rather than appreciate our varied gifts and charisms. These are complex and sometimes painful realities, but as Pope Francis reminds us, wounds and divisions will never be healed from a distance: We need nearness and proximity that leads to relationship.

That’s one reason I am so grateful to be a part of a religious order that encompasses many vocations and crosses many boundaries. Made up of sisters, friars, nuns and laity, what we refer to as the Dominican Family is a microcosm of the wider church. We live our shared charism in varied ways, and often we don’t see eye-to-eye. But as a global order with 800 years under its belt, the charism has transcended thousands of equally turbulent, divided, and conflicted societies — and in that, I see enormous potential for healing and a model of community that can honor both diversity and unity.

I believe that religious life certainly has a role to play in the healing of our church and society. By the time this article is published, I will have seen Pope Francis in person and attended a canonization Mass (which in itself is a subject of controversy and division) with other novices, men and women from across the country and who represent many corners of our church. I don’t quite know what to expect, but I do know that I am full of hope: hope that Francis’ visit here can encourage us to cross the boundaries that divide us. Hope that we can learn to truly listen to one another without losing sight of our truth. Hope that we can transcend the polarizations that prevent us from encountering one another and live Francis’ vision of a church that heals — beginning, first of all, with ourselves.

[Christin Tomy is a novice with the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. She has lived and worked in Central and South America and has a background in Spanish and social work. She is passionate about social justice, good hugs, Iowa and most outdoor activities. She also writes for her community’s blog at]