Yesterday I watched The Oprah Winfrey Show for my first time, in order to see Lisa Ling visiting and reporting on the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. I found the treatment to be respectful, honest, and encouraging. CNA had an article about them a while back: "Ann Arbor sisters can't build fast enough to house new members."
It just goes to show that there is no such thing as a problem of vocations in the religious life. If we religious of mainstream and venerable orders are willing to read the 'signs of the times,' we have to say that religious life seems to flourish when it is centered on the Eucharist, enthusiastic about reliable and traditional prayer, committed to a clear and corporate mission, puts on the garb, and is embedded in and faithful to the larger Church.
Of course we should be willing to do all of these things, but the questions that arise for the more relaxed observers can be very difficult. It's easy to judge everyone else, and besides, the Holy Spirit hasn't put into my pastoral care the vocation of any other religious (thank God), so what about me? Am I willing to follow these 'signs of the times' into this renewal of religious life?
Would I be willing to let go of the ministries I do as an individual in favor of a complete and total commitment to corporate work? How about this blog? Even if a few of us are working in a parish, for instance, we can minister in a compartmentalized way that protects us from vulnerability and the fraternal penance of collaboration. Do I trust God enough to let go of the safety of that model? Am I ready to let go of my ministerial reputation and productivity in favor of ours, even if the "we" in question is sometimes under the domination of control freaks and micromanagers on the one hand, or indifferent souls disinterested in church teaching on the other?
How about the bourgeois entitlements that have wormed their way into the hearts of mainstream religious? Having one's own car, computer, bathroom, cell phone, etc.; all of these things relieve of us of having to communicate with one another and having to share like other poor people. But would I be ready to let go of any of these things--even the PC on which I am composing this post? How about vacations, days off, and so-called 'day off money'? Would I be ready to let go of some of these things in favor of a religious life that approximates the life of poor men rather than one committed to the entitlements and recreations of the affluent?
How about mutual accountability? If I live in a house that doesn't seem to be living up to the minimum demands of the Rule and Constitutions we have promised to observe, am I ready to go gently to my local or major superior to seek a solution? Am I ready to accept labels like 'neo-con' and 'wanting to go back' if I do? On the other hand, am I willing to have a superior challenge me about my contribution to regular observance? Am I willing to be challenged about whether I am observing the daily Mass, meditation, devotion to Our Lady, and annual retreat that universal law requires of me as a religious? Am I willing to say something to a brother whom I fear is not observing these things? How about whether or not I am faithful to the five daily prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours I promised to pray each day the morning I was ordained deacon? Would I be ready to challenge another priest on this point when he walks into the chapel and has to ask, "What week are we in?"
These are hard questions for us as religious, but if we want to read the 'signs of the times' for the future of religious life, we need to be ready to ask them, and to ask them together.