Sunday, July 29, 2012

Occupy Catholic Religious Life

-->The occupy movement has taken the nation and the world by storm. It is congealing the energies of those who know that business-as-usual is not sustainable, as is shown by the recent melt-down of the world economy, the continued degradation of the environment, and growing spiritual unrest. If business-as-usual is not sustainable, it will take all of us, working together to build an economically just, environmentally sustainable and spiritually meaningful future. When society is poised for a major awakening, religious life too can be a part of this and be a player in its unfolding. But it requires that we acknowledge our complicity in business-as-usual and commit to our own awakening and re-imagining.
Religious life in today's society can take stock of some important currents that may not be religiously motivated, but are certainly consonant with the Gospel values we seek to incarnate in society: intentional community, ecological awakening, calls for economic justice, solidarity with the poor and a shift in consciousness. Christians in general, and men and women religious in particular, in the best of their history, have always sought to be a leaven in society, helping shape movements animated by the spirit of the beatitudes: to be peacemakers, to be merciful and to work for justice. We can mine our tradition for insights and tools to help us in this, but we will also need to engage the real issues of today. History is a great teacher, but it cannot answer today's questions.
The question we are raising today is: What would it look like for religious life to take up the challenges issued by the occupy movement? Where do we find resonances with the occupy movement in our own traditions and the stories of our various religious communities?
Some may turn to the Second Vatican Council and its call to renewal for the answers to these questions. This is part of the answer. Vatican II called religious to renew their lives by returning to the founding words and works, by engaging the founding members and the founding story and asking how that story might be more authentically lived in today's time and place. This called for a re-imagination of the life in a new historical context, a task energetically undertaken by the religious of the day.
The renewal of the second half of the 20th century prepared us for a more fundamental re-invention of the life that will bring us into the middle of the 21st century. Historically, religious life has 're-invented' itself, every 500 years or so, with the new forms continuing to exist along-side the old.
In the early Christian centuries, hermits, virgins and pilgrims sought to embrace a life of deep personal commitment to prayer and gospel living, to the exclusion of any other primary life commitment. We have writings from these Fathers and Mothers of the desert heard the call to a more radical form of life.
By the 5th Century, this way of life found new expression in monastic communities. By this time experience had shown that individual wandering monks were sometimes unruly and disruptive. By gathering in communities, Christians found support and challenge for the living of their the radical commitment to prayer and gospel living. Benedict and Augustine wrote rules that survive to this day and continue to inspire followers.
In the Middle Ages, the life re-invented itself as some of the large and powerful monasteries found it difficult to maintain their fidelity to those founding ideals. The mendicants sought lives of poverty and simplicity. Franciscans and Dominicans are prime examples of this life form.
Then again in the 16th Century, the apostolic orders arose in response to the pressing needs of the church and of society. The Jesuits, the Sisters of St. Joseph and so many groups arose to carry out the mission of Jesus in the world around them.1 Each of these 're-inventions' arose because of changed circumstances and the need for a new response from religious.
I sometimes wonder if the radical shifts in religious life and in the culture of today aren't calling for yet another re-invention, a new form of the life which will not supplant the former, as each of the prior forms have continued to exist along-side the old.
...more later.
--Join an Internet forum with younger women religious Monday, July 30 and Tuesday July 31, 7pm Central US Time.
--Amy Hereford

1 Earlier groups had men and women, e.g. Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans. But there are fewer examples of men's and women's apostolic communities coming out of the same tradition as we saw with those earlier forms.

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.”

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Lift Up the Banner of your Heart Boldly

Lift up the banner of your heart boldly
and commit your very next step
to what you love most dearly.
--John Fox

Top 10 Things I Learned on Hermitage 

Blogging from a hermitage?!  What next?!  Well, it is Sabbath, and I decided that I wanted to share.  So, yes, I'm blogging from my hermitage.  It is desert, both literally and figuratively.  Read more...

Young Religious Creating History for Consecrated Life in India

The capital city will be the venue of the first Young Religious National Convention from a number of Religious Congregations across India. It was held from 9 – 12 July 2012 at Don Bosco Campus, Okhla. Over 200 educated and media literate delegates attended this well planned Convention under the theme “Leadership for Consecrated Life 2020”. Read more....

Younger Women Religious Gather in US next Summer

Early registration is open for the 2013 Giving Voice National Gathering. July 5-8, 2013 at Notre Dame de Namur University, Belmont, California. This national gathering will be for members of the Giving Voice Generation (women religious under 50).  Carol Zinn, SSJ has accepted our invitation to join us as we ponder mission and ministry as younger women religious in the 21st Century. Stay tuned for details....

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Re-Imagining Nuns - III

The Mediating Category is the World

I'm continuing a reflection on a paper of Sandra Schneiders. In that paper, she proposed 'the world' as the mediating category to understand the dynamic at work in the Second Vatican Council and in the subsequent renewal of religious life.
We cannot trace, even briefly, the 2000 year history of the Church and its relation to the non-ecclesiastical reality in which it is embedded. But, essentially, the relationship between the Church and what it defined as the “world,” meaning everything other than its institutional self, was one of antagonism and increasing enmity.1
In the quasi-monastic apostolic communities, the repudiation took a symbolic form of cloister, dress and schedule: habit, and habitation, dress and address. A repudiation perhaps more symbolic than real as women took to the streets to meet the crushing needs of the day which were sadly unmet by the church, the state and the un-empowered laity. Many religious communities began as lay groups which were co-opted into religious communities by a variety of external pressures.2
I would suggest that the primary and pivotal originality of Vatican II was the paradigm shift in the Church’s self-understanding of its relationship to the world.3
The new 'world' space is indeed relevant since the former dualistic separation of the spiritual and temporal affairs belies the radical presence of God in all things. In today's consciousness, the world is not merely the field of evangelization, it is full of images of God and replete with the presence of God. The thinnest mist separates the “seen and unseen; / Lo, God's two worlds immense, / Of spirit and of sense.”4 The Christian's work is not to remake the world, but it is to sweep away the mist and let the presence of God shine through for themselves and for those around them.
In this new 'world' view, what is the place of world-repudiating religious? What is the place of habit and habitation in so far as they are the symbols of flight from the world? Quite quickly following Vatican II, religious life adapted to the new circumstances. Taking up the words and works of their founding narrative, in the years of renewal, religious discovered and renewed the charismatic elements of the life, discarding structures that didn't serve the newly-recovered story.
How could Religious, who had always seen themselves, and been seen by the Church -- precisely because of their separation from the world -- as the vanguard of the faithful, the “more illustrious portion of the flock of Christ,” if not the primary incarnation and instrument of the Church’s self-understanding as the antithesis of the world, re-conceptualize their vocation in terms of the Church’s new espousal of solidarity with the world without renouncing their very identity?5
This called for a radical re-imagination of the life in a new historical context, a task energetically undertaken by the religious of the day. In the course of their response, religious found themselves yielding ministerial roles to lay persons outside their communities. This was a trend that found its theological underpinnings in Vatican II's empowering of the laity for mission. But it also found practical impetus in the decreasing numbers of religious as women left religious life in those chaotic post-conciliar years and fewer women came to replace them. This left positions open in ministries that till that time were almost entirely staffed by religious. At the same time increasing numbers of lay persons were professionally prepared and seeking to serve along side their religious counterparts.
Apostolic religious life, had its birth in a particular historical context marked by profound social needs which could only be met by vowed religious. Among the Catholic laity, we are seeing an increasingly large, competent and committed group of men and women serving the needs of both Church and society. This development was called for by Vatican II, with it's renewed understanding of the universal call to holiness and to mission.6 This change in historical context raises the question of the ongoing place of specifically apostolic religious life in the church and the world of today.
Historically, religious life has 're-invented' itself, every 500 years or so, with the new forms continuing to exist along-side the old. Pilgrims, hermits and ascetics were the religious of the early Christian centuries. They were followed by the rise of monastics beginning in the 5th century. The middle ages saw the rise of the fresh insights of the mendicants which in turn was followed by the rise of the apostolic orders in the 15th century. There are many examples of each form of religious life.7
Each of these 're-inventions' arose because of changed circumstances and the need for a new response from religious. I sometimes wonder if the radical shifts in religious life and in the culture of today aren't calling for yet another re-invention, a new form of the life which will not supplant the former, as each of the prior forms have continued to exist along-side the old.
For this task of re-invention, we can take inspiration from some 20th century visionaries such as Dorothy Day, Jean Vanier and Deitrich Bonhoeffer who all saw that the key to living radical Christian life in today's world is community.
The restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ. I think it is time to gather people together to do this....8
The radical nature of religious life is the incarnation of the beatitudes here and now. We do it after the pattern of our founders; we come together out of those distinctive heritages to discover anew the freshness of radical gospel rootedness, and the call of our charisms to be connected to our contemporary time and place.
--Sister Amy Hereford

2Lynn Jarrell, “The Legal and Historical Context of Religious Life for Women,” The Jurist 45 (1985): 419–437.
3Schneiders, “The Radical Nature and Significance of Consecrated Life.”
4 Francis Thompson, “Any Saint,” in The Works of Francis Thompson (London: Burns & Oates, 1913), lines 76-78.
5Schneiders, “The Radical Nature and Significance of Consecrated Life.”
6Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Lumen Gentium, AAS 57 (1965) 5-75, 1964; Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Apostolicam Actuositatem, AAS 58 (1966) 837-864, 1965.
7Examples of the various forms are: Monastics: Benedictines and Augustinians; Mendicants: Franciscans and Dominicans; Apostolic Religious: Jesuits and Sisters of St. Joseph (Due to complete cloister for women, there are fewer examples of mens and womens apostolic communities coming out of the same tradition):
8Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from a letter to Karl-Friedrich Bonhoeffer in A Testment to Freedom (p. 424)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Poem from the East

I do not seek
to follow in the footsteps
of those of old,
I seek the things that they sought.
--Matsuo Bashō

One of our sisters 'of old' shared this quote as indicative of what 'younger sisters' are seeking.

The Future of Consecrated Life

UNITED KINGDOM - A two-day Conference on "The Future of Consecrated Life in the United Kingdom and Europe" was held in the parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Hayes, Middlesex on Tuesday 29th and Wednesday 30th May. Over 200 Religious men and women from the United Kingdom and Ireland attended. Read more.... 

Online Symposium on Consecrated Life

WEB - Join us in 2012 for an ongoing, online conversation organized and presented by women religious under the age of 60 on emergent Religious Life. Session III will be on July 8, 2012. Gail Worcelo will present: Sisters on the Cosmological Frontier Read more....