One of the things that makes religious life in common a rich adventure is that we all tend to play out our family of origin issues in community. Since religious life is a highly idealistic enterprise and bears--for better or for worse--the idea of the 'pursuit of perfection', but since we all come from families made up of imperfect people, ourselves included, it can get a little messy. Nonetheless--and I think this is what God wills--it can be redemptive; inner children are re-born of the Holy Spirit and souls re-parent themselves into flourishing and fruitful celibates. Sometimes, though, it doesn't work so well. Most of us, of course, end up somewhere in the middle, blessed messes of wheat and weeds. As my first priest once said to me, one of the hardest things about our life is finding ourselves neither remarkably holy nor remarkable sinners. Nevertheless, our hope is in a God who promised to burn the weeds and harvest the wheat for eternal life.
One of the particular manifestations of this general dynamic which I have described, one that probably requires more research, is that the souls who find themselves in male religious life are often souls who have issues with their earthly fathers. These issues, often with much confusion and needless sufferings, and in both directions, are easily transferred and played out in the authority structure of the community. On the other hand, one notes especially with priests that they are very often extraordinarily devoted to their mothers. I once heard of a priest who was said to have bragged about having had the chasuble for his first Mass made out of the material from his mother's wedding dress. Creepy? Perhaps. But--how do you say it--fabulous? For sure.
Reflecting on these things in an idle moment, there came to me an idea for a new sort of religious life. The institute would be mixed, with a male and a female branch. But here's the thing: all of the superiors for the brothers' branch (the coordinators of houses, the major superiors of provinces, and the supreme moderator in Rome, should my little foundation ascend to being an institute of pontifical right) would be elected from the sisters' branch. These could be assisted at each level of authority by councils elected out of the brothers, but all the superiors in the masculine branch of the institute would be women. I have a strong suspicion that this arrangement would make the whole enterprise run more smoothly than it does in the traditional, homosocial way of arranging things.
Trouble is, the whole idea is only going to work if the converse is a good idea for the feminine branch, and I don't have any competence in that area. I have long suspected that male and female celibacy are somewhat different sorts of things on the charismatic and spiritual levels. So I'll wait for some feminine input before I start praying that the first Mother General of my new foundation find me so that I can charm her with the idea, pledge my obedience, and together we can go in search of a friendly bishop.