Sunday, July 22, 2012

Re-Imagining Nuns - IV

Religious life calls us to re-imagination. In this new context, our call is to incarnate the gospel in this time, in this place. We are called to be re-grounded in the Gospel imperative to be peacemakers, to be merciful and to work for justice. We know what that has looked like over the years, but what does it look like today?
The early hermits went to the desert for the same reason modern hermits go to the desert:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.1
Early hermits sought to live the Gospel with radical commitment. At some point, the flight from the world became a repudiation of the world, not simply a personal quest. This world-repudiating move was challenged with the new theological impetus of the Second Vatican Council.
The three vows, the form Profession has taken in most congregations and the substance of which is involved in all forms of Profession, do not necessarily have to be understood in terms of physical flight from the world. They can be understood, and I think much better and more fruitfully understood, not as the assumption of supererogatory obligations and practices, but as the coordinates of an alternate “world,” not another place but an alternate imaginative reality construction. By profession Religious create, live in, and minister out of an alternate “world,” which they offer to their contemporaries as a real historical possibility.2
This is the call of religious life today to live in such a way as to create an alternate world. We dare to take the gospel seriously and ask where we would live and what we do. In this way, religious hope to
create a living realization in their own community life of the true world of which God dreams while working through their ministry to make it real in history.3
This imperative of religious life reminds me of the small faith-based intentional communities I know. Perhaps religious life is better done by small intentional communities that support one another in life, community and mission. Large institutional ministries are no longer necessary or possible; large groups of ready laborers are part of the fond memories of many older Catholics today. But the smaller local groups that are networked for mutual support and assistance is more likely the way of the future. It is likely that we will be collaborating inter-congregationally to make these communities a reality for the active religious women in our world today.

1Henry David Thoreau, Walden Pond (Boston, MA: Boston, Ticknor and Fields, 1854), 98.
2Schneiders, “The Radical Nature and Significance of Consecrated Life.”


  1. Hi Amy. I would note that today contemporary hermits also try to live in a way which does not simply repudiate "the world" as though it is some hypostasized reality separate from ourselves. The first place we confront "the world" is in our own hearts. We accept the definition of "world" in this limited sense of "that which is resistant to Christ" (Handbook on Canons 573-746). More fundamentally we recognize "the world" as God's good creation and as a Sacramental reality. Whether hermits or ministerial religious we too are involved in re-imagining religious life and measuring success in terms of our ability to live the Gospel radically. Great series of posts! Thanks.

  2. Amy, Thanks for the reflection - I'm signed on for more. Jeanne