Is there such a thing as too much church reform?

America Magazine

Oct. 27, 2019

By Colleen Carroll Campbell

Almost a year after the Vatican removed now disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from ministry and nearly five months after U.S. bishops met in Baltimore to address the ongoing sexual abuse crisis, many Catholics are feeling frustrated by the slow pace of reform in a scandal-plagued church. These Catholics may find a kindred spirit and cautionary tale in Angélique Arnauld, one of history’s most fascinating, if often forgotten, church reformers.

Born in 1591 to Catholic nobles hungry for ecclesial power and willing to pull a few strings in the corruption-plagued French church to get it, Angélique was named abbess of the prestigious Port-Royal convent near Paris when she was only 7. She was officially installed at age 11, on the same day she received her first communion—a sacrament she only dimly understood.

Angélique spent the next five years drifting in and out of depression-induced illnesses while her mother and an older nun ran the convent for her. When she was 16, a traveling Franciscan preacher inspired her to dedicate her life to Christ and study her faith. Angélique began living her vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the hilt, motivating her lukewarm nuns to follow suit.

Over the next decade, Angélique transformed Port-Royal from a haven for spoiled socialites to a bastion of religious rigor. Her nuns rose at 2 a.m. to pray, ate no meat, spoke only once daily during a recreation period, and divided the rest of their hours between hard labor and highly choreographed prayer. It was a grueling life. And in a culture that equated austerity with holiness, it made them spiritual celebrities.

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