Slate.com, the online news magazine, has an interesting but highly questionable assessment of consecrated and monastic life in the article A Monastic Kind of Life: How Catholic religious communities are trying to attract young people again by Harold Fickett (October 14, 2008). Have you read it? If not, it’s a must read. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.
As for me, I found the article not only questionable but just plain wrong. Here are my thoughts.
1. The terminology is totally off. Monasticism is one form of consecrated life. Not all nuns, sisters, brothers, friars or priests live a monastic life.
2. Even though folks are quick to note the decline in numbers for consecrated life, they fail to note that the comparison is always to the early- to mid-1900s when there were 50+ people entering mainstream communities a year. But that time period is not characteristic of consecrated life throughout the history of Christianity. In fact that time period is more of an aberration because the history of consecrated life has never seen that kind of influx before nor possibly again.
3. Consecrated life was never meant to be a life for the masses. The viability of consecrated life is not dependent on numbers. True, some communities do end up disbanding but that too is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit just like the community’s founding was. We are not here to create a legacy but to do the work of God and live the Gospel in this particular vocation.
4. The article says, “The mission of many orders has become simply caring for their aging populations as they sell properties and consolidate with others.” I beg to differ. We always have and always will live our mission AND care for our sisters. There is nothing new about caring for aging populations, selling property, collaborating, and combining congregations. What is new is that we have such large numbers right now because of the major influx from the early- to mid-1900s. We have to be a bit more creative perhaps in how we care for our sisters and deal with our assets, but other than that, we remain vibrant.
5. What the heck is this?
For a time, the life of Catholic religious orders became about social justice issues, psychological issues, peace studies, interreligious dialogue, the ecology movement—everything and anything, seemingly, except the central proposition: that one can know a loving God and be transformed.
I am deeply offended by this statement. It reveals the author’s lack of understanding about consecrated life and about this period of history in the Catholic Church. Read the Vatican II Church Documents, spend time with religious who lived through this time period, and then perhaps you will understand that religious have been and will continue to be centered around a life and mission based on being in relationship with a loving God and working towards the transformation of ourselves and the world.
6. The jump from discussing consecrated life through Vatican II to the recent foundation of Clear Creek Monastery suggests that only newer communities are faithful to the Church and attractive to young people. While the growth in the monastery is great, the newer communities have not stood the test of time to see if young people stay, how new communities will grow and change as all religious communities before them have. It is exciting to see newer communities and the ways the Holy Spirit continues to inspire people. But make no mistake, the Holy Spirit is alive and well in established religious communities who continue to live out their charism according to what Vatican II called the “signs of the times”.
Well, that’s my two cents (or three) on the article.