Last month I wondered if the wine of religious life was running out; was God finished with this vineyard?
If not, why aren’t more women interested in joining us in religious life today?
Sitting with Sisters Carol and Paula here in Clare’s Well living room the other night, I shared a piece from Cardinal Roger Mahony, a name familiar to Paula who knew him in California. Cardinal Mahony said,
“What some refer to as a ‘vocation crisis’ is, rather, one of the many
fruits of the Second Vatican Council. It is a sign of God’s deep love for
the Church, and an invitation to a more creative and effective ordering of gifts
and energy in the Body of Christ. This is a time of great challenge and
opportunity in the Church, not least of all because the gifts of the lay
faithful have been flourishing in unprecedented numbers and in unforeseen ways.”
There was less incentive for lay ministers when priests and sisters were readily available. Now there seems to be less incentive for religious life.
Service is not the distinguishing call to religious life. Baptism, in which we all share, is the foundational sacrament of ministry. The foundation of a vocation to religious life is something else; it is not simply an invitation to perform works in God’s vineyard. I am brought back to square one to consider again, what is a vocation to religious life? If the ‘vocation crisis’ comes from God’s love and is an invitation to a more creative and effective ordering of gifts and energy in the Body of Christ, what are our distinguishing gifts? How do we cooperate with God to creatively and effectively order them? God seems to be successful with the laity. Refurbishing religious must take more work.
At the heart of the call to religious life is a desire to give oneself in love to God totally. Today’s Gospel (Lk 9 for Feb. 26th) contains this passage which motivated Francis of Assisi, “For what does it profit anyone to gain the whole world and then lose or forfeit the very self that one was created to be.” The essential call to religious life has to do with witness to the fullness of a life given freely back to God. This witness is through the vows lived in community.
Fidelis Tracy says it quite clearly for me: The vow of chastity, consecrated celibacy, witnesses to the possibility of loving without measure in response to a Beloved whose love is infinite. Living the vow of poverty witnesses to all people that we do not have an absolute right to accumulate things or to treat them as though they were not for the good of all. It expresses dependence on and trust in God. The vow of obedience acknowledges that all of us are called to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking through the circumstances of our lives. The vowed religious commits herself to listen to God speaking through community in a life of interdependence (as opposed to dependence or absolute independence.) We witness to the possibility of joy living a life of dependence on God’s Word. Each of the vows is rooted in a desire to give self totally to God and to witness to all people of the primacy of God. (Vocations: How Is God Calling Me? Fidelis Tracy, C.D.P. Catholic Update from St. Anthony Messenger Press 2001 )