The Hawthornian Angle

The events of the last few years have inspired me to reread Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter. As a consecrated woman of the Regnum Christi Movement I see a striking similarity between the harsh call by some people for the dissolution of the Legion and the words of the puritan women as they awaited the adulteress Hester Prynne to issue forth from the prison wearing her elaborately embroidered letter. These “self-constituted judges” as Hawthorne calls them, deemed that for the good of their society she ought to have been put to death for her sin.

            Hawthorne is careful to observe that Hester could have easily abandoned this 17th Century Puritan settlement of Boston and returned to live peacefully in England under a new identity. But instead she accepted to be branded as a public sinner and live in a small thatched cottage on the outskirts of town. With the little extra money she is able to raise by her embroidery work, she sews clothes for the beggars who insult her ungraciously even as they accept her gifts. She mercifully tends the sick and dying.

            Unlike Hester Prynne, for myself and many others who are choosing to remain in the Legion and Regnum Christi Movement, a scarlet letter has been bestowed on us not as a result of our own wrong actions, but of our founder. I have wept at the wrongs perpetrated by my founder and wish to apologize here to all those who suffered from him. I’m sorry for the deep hurt he caused to some as well as for the appalling scandal within the Church. I’m sorry as well for anyone else who has been wounded by Legionaries or members of the Regnum Christi Movement. When I joined the Movement it was for the sake of helping to bring many people to heaven not for causing harm.

            Hawthorne’s tale echoes my belief that the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi are something good for the Church and society. I cannot grasp why God would have chosen such a man as his instrument for founding a religious order and movement and yet He did. God’s unfathomable ways. It helped me to grasp why the Church never approves founders, but rather the foundation itself. I guess our current situation helps show the wisdom of that practice.

The lineage of Jesus Christ manifests that the sins of our predecessors do not stop the action of grace. One of the four women to make it onto the list is Tamar, who played the harlot with her own father-in-law; and another is Bathsheba, whose first husband, Uriah, was killed at King David’s order when she became pregnant with his child. We could say that these individuals were not worthy of being Our Lord’s ancestors; yet their unworthiness didn’t stop Him from choosing them anyways. God’s ways are not our ways…

            Our case is certainly unprecedented in the Church’s 2000 year history. The only order that I know of, bearing a slight resemblance to us is the Capuchins. Founded as a branch of the Franciscan Order and put under the Minister General of the Conventuals, their first Vicar General left the new order to go back to the Conventuals. The second Vicar General was expelled from the order. The third one, Bernadine of Asti, was saintly, but the fourth, Bernardine Occhino of Siena, not only abandoned the order but got married and became a Calvinist. He had been the most celebrated preacher of his time. It must have been extremely disconcerting for the early Capuchins. Nevertheless their order flourished from then on.

Over the years Hester’s humble, kind service and manner gradually win over the hearts of the townsfolk. “Such helpfulness was found in her – so much power to do and power to sympathize – that many people refused to interpret the scarlet “A” by its original signification. They said that it meant “Able”; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength.” My hope is that members of the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement will wear their scarlet letters humbly, embracing that constant reminder to make expiation and dedicate themselves more to their task of serving others and ardently spreading Christ’s Kingdom. Like Hester, who became known for her good deeds more than for the letter she wore, I ardently hope that our scarlet letters will be overshadowed by our future countless good deeds.

I couldn’t have imagined having to face this current situation in my consecrated life. However I daily witness that the high ideals, enthusiasm and dedication to Christ in the vast majority of my companions have not been squelched by this ordeal. Clearly I’m not in any position to predict what will become of us; but I hold onto Christ through prayer and to my hope that our situation can be remedied with some elbow grease on our part, the paternal help of the Holy Father, the maternal help of the Church and a lot of grace from on high.

About Joan Kingsland

Joan Kingsland has been a consecrated member of the Regnum Christi Movement since 1993. She earned licentiate and doctoral degrees in moral theology at the John Paul II Institute in Rome, as well as a Bachelor of Arts degree from Thomas Aquinas College, and a Master of Arts degree from the University of Toronto. She currently teaches at Mater Ecclesiae College in Rhode Island, where newly consecrated members earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in religious and pastoral studies.
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4 Responses to The Hawthornian Angle

  1. Polish Pilgrim says:

    Joan,
    I understand what you mean when you say you “can not grasp why God would have chosen such a man” as Maciel to found a religious movement. I don’t see it so much as God having chosen Maciel, as much as Maciel having exerted his free will and sinfulness into the world. The only things that I think “God willed” to Maciel were his life and his freedom to act. I don’t think God wanted this to happen for some glorious reason that will become known years from now. I do know that Maciel made it happen and now it’s up to us to clean up the debris—what Catholics, Christians, and all men and women of good will are called upon to do throughout history.

  2. kelly says:

    We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

    Who is to say what is God’s will? Those of us who “love God” make choices with the information we have and God’s works with what we give him. He also works around people’s bad choices to accomplish His purposes.

    It is Christ, not us, who “cleaned up the debris” on the cross. Remember, Christians can do nothing without him. (John 15:5 – I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.)

  3. poman says:

    Polish Pilgrim, great point. I have to ponder that a bit more, but I’ve always seen it as God allowing it to happen. It was His will that Fr. Maciel have free will, as you said, but not to use it for evil. It always bothers me when some say “It was God’s will” when something bad or negative happens. What I suppose they mean is, “God is in control” That I can agree with. He may allow bad things to happen that fall outside what He would will to happen, but he allows it for a greater good. We can have confidence in that.

    I always go back to paragraph 311 of the Catechism, qutoing St. Augustine: “For almighty God. . ., because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.

    To allow that God could and did bring much good out of evil does not downplay or excuse the grave sins that Fr. Maciel committed, or to not look at some things that need revision/overhauling. It simply shows the power and mercy of God.

    Thanks Joan for an interesting post.

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