February 10, 2010

Hard Questions for Religious Life

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.


saintos said...

Not owning a TV I'll have to wait for the clip to appear on YouTube.

Our eldest daughter (early 20s) went to the autumn come and see there. (We live just across the border in Canada) and continues to discern her vocation in life. We were treated to a tour by Sr. Martin Therese -- what a blessing.

In the book, The Tide Is Turning Toward Catholicism, I believe it was there that, I was made aware of a fact about vocations to the (various) religious life worldwide: where there are (doctrinal) orthodoxy, holy priests & religious and Adoration one finds an increase in vocations.

Hidden One said...

Good post, Br. Charles.

I am confident that - whatever the current number - the number of yes's that you can say now will go up.


The vids are already on Oprah's website. Dunno about Youtube. Warning: They like to play faster than they load and if you use the pause button, no saying that you'll be able to unpause them. If you can't unpause, it's back to the beginning.

ben in denver said...

I missed it too. The Godmother of my youngest child was in Ann Arbor for several years and left before permanent vows. Her (biological) sister took her permanent vows there last year.

It seems to be a wonderful community. I enjoy their program on EWTN, but too be honest, my kids think it is a little boring.

Reading through the rest of your post, I must say that it sounds like you are gearing up for a very mortifying Lenten Season. I will keep you in my prayers--that your cross does not become too heavy.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks, Ben, for your encouragement! One of our parishioners was among the novices interviewed.

Anonymous said...

Father Charles, I think that all of the data indicates that certain religious orders that observe the criteria your set forth are in fact thriving with new vocations. Another example is the Nashville Dominican sisters. It is a teaching order that is branching out to assume responsibility for new schools where most of the traditional teaching orders have abandoned that mission. Sadly, many members of those formerly prolific orders have lapsed into uber-secularism, with their own apartments, living apart from the life of their community, and giving no outward indication that they are vowed religious. I think that the lack of new vocations in these orders is tied directly to their secularization.

Greg said...

Which local Order of the larger Franciscan family do you call home?

In the days of Francis he sent Brothers out in pairs. Has this practice diminished because of numbers or for other reasons?

Brother Charles said...


I am of the Capuchin branch. And much has changed since Francis sent the brothers out in pairs!

Warren said...

It encourages me to see your reflection on Religious life.

I feel a certain tug towards the ancient observance of religious rule, seen not as a replacement for the laws of Moses, but rather as a way of binding ourselves firmly, to the principles of Gospel living. The Gospel is Poverty. The Gospel is Chastity. The Gospel is Obedience.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks, And serve Him with great humility. Amen!


Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, your assessment of the situation and changes in general are glaringly apparent to anyone with eyes and a brain. Up until very recently I posted on a Jesuit blog which was obsessed with this very topic. Time after time their thesis was; a) you can't judge an order's current charism on the numbers of novitiates it attracts and b) the Vatican is evil and run by men who are using the Visitations as their most recent way to make poor defenseless women suffer. And no matter how you point to facts, statements, documents etc, they simply will not be dissuaded from this premise (they quote from anonymous nuns interviewed in America Magazine, NCR and Commonwheel as gospel).

There is a crisis in the church, but it is not due to the lack of vocations; it's the OPPOSITE. There are smaller vocations because there is a crisis in the church, begun when a select group of elitists attempted to dismantle 2,000 years of tradition and knowledge with their own personal egos and vision. Gratefully, this destruction was not completed, and God sent us our Pope Benedict (may God bless him and grant him 100 years!).

Fr Charles, your questions are difficult ones. But from what little I've read from you, you seem properly armed to formulate an intelligent and correct response to any of them should the time arise. Be not afraid.

4narnia said...

nice post, Fr. C! thanks for sharing it. it's very encouraging. a parishioner from Sacred Heart is one of the novices? that is wonderful! PEACE! ~tara t~

Rachel Gray said...

Very interesting post, Father; I love your questions!

"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."

I think that's very true. I sure wouldn't trust my life to any order that didn't have all those attributes.

To be honest, from reading your posts on the opinions and practices of your brother friars (e.g. "Relativism Rant"), I wouldn't dare to join a congregation like yours. There appear to be far too many cafeteria Catholics in it, and that would depress the heck out of me.