As mentioned in earlier posts, I’m reading Kenneth Brigg’s book Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns. Here are a few more of my reflections …
The Preface and Introduction of Double Crossed mix lovely prose with hard numbers — the statistics that claim to show that religious life is dying out.
Clearly, a culture rich in prayer, learning, wisdom, and service is rapidly passing out of existence with no obvious means of survival. With demise on the horizon, the sisters themselves differ in what they believe the downward trend means. (Introduction, 2)
Yes, I agree that religious life is “a culture rich in prayer, learning, wisdom, and service.” But is it “rapidly passing out of existence … with demise on the horizon”?? I find this hard to believe. Crunching the numbers just does not seem like the best way to evaluate a living tradition. At the same time, considering the future of religious life is something many congregations and individuals joining religious life must grapple with. In my lived experience of being a nun, my sense is that religious life will always a part of the life of the Church. Indeed, women and men who commit themselves to poverty, chastity, and obedience (or forms thereof) have been present in a variety of religious traditions and cultures. The days of the proliferation of nuns, sisters, monks, and brothers may indeed be over. But it seems to me that religious life was never meant to be a popularity contest based on numbers or anything else for that matter. Many of our founders began with a pressing need, a few people who gathered together to address that need and prayed together, and meager but creatively-used resources. Should it be a surprise that perhaps we are returning to our roots?
Far, far from demise, I think this is a very exciting time in history for religious life. As always, we are charged with the task of honoring the vision of our founders, reverencing the tradition set forth by our sisters, and continuing to go where the needs are. We can do this with habits or without, in traditional ministries or outside of traditional ministries, with 1000 sisters or with 4 sisters. I know this may sound cliche, but it’s a central tenet of our faith: with God, all things are possible. And I firmly believe, the Oblate Sisters of Providence say, Providence will provide.