He was convinced that mainstream religious life (in our cultural context) was dying, and that the spirituality of religious life needed to be that of a terminal patient. Like many religious and priests I've met over the years, the Kübler-Ross "Stages of Grief" was a primary spiritual schema in his pastoral imagination. He diagnosed mainstream religious life as having passed through 'denial' and 'anger', but being stuck in the 'bargaining' or 'depression' stages. What religious life needed, he would say, was to emerge into the 'acceptance' stage so that it could pass on its remaining gifts to others and die with whatever little dignity it had left.
I didn't reflect much on this at the time; I thought that perhaps it was just some of the bumps in Father's personal journey intruding as distraction in our relationship. He was otherwise a very kind and helpful man, so I just dismissed these things as a random negativity.
But lately I've been thinking about it again. The friary where I have been assigned since last summer is a new community. The house used to be a diocesan rectory until we took it over a few years ago. The chapel used to be the priests' dining room. Whoever set up the chapel had at his disposal some old stained glass windows, and someone chose one of them with an image of Christ crucified for the center of the space. The funny thing about it is that this window looks like it must of been part of a set illustrating the seven sacraments. The one we have is Extreme Unction. So each time I go to chapel and gaze briefly on Christ crucified, I notice the large "OI" jar of the oil of the sick next to him, and the words, "Extreme Unction" beneath.
Now I'm sure this is all an accident of decorating history. But I'm pretty sensitive to symbol. It gets into my reflection what it means for religious to pray in a chapel that seems to be dedicated to Last Rites.
Lately I've been wondering and reflecting on whether or not there are subtle ways we have given up, spiritual decadences we've permitted ourselves because we don't believe in a future for ourselves, zeals we've traded in for securities and comforts because we've let go of the missionary fire that burns for God's salvation to inflame the world. I'm not saying these are true, or in what ways, but I can't help but feel these questions entering into my prayer when I see that window.