to every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under heaven.
I have had the occasion to examine the official chapter documents of several communities, for a period of time running over the last 50+ years. The exercise reveals some common trends. When I have shared this information with religious, they often say that it rings true with their experience of their own communities as well.
Examination of the official Chapter documents of several religious communities reveals this interesting trend. In the 40s and 50s, the years before the Second Vatican Council chapters were often focused on details of habit, schedule and finances.
In the tumultuous 60s and 70s, following the Council, communities were charged to renew their lives and revise their Constitutions, which set out their fundamental way of life. Thus for the space of a decade or so, the Chapters invited participants into a dialogue about the identity of religious life and every aspect of how it was lived. There was wide participation in these discussions both in chapters and in their preparation and follow-up.
In the 80s and 90s, the chapter discussions turned outward to issues of mission and social justice. During these decades and into the 2000s, there was comparatively little discussion of the internal matters of religious life and spirituality.
Now as we come to the 50th anniversary of VCII, we are beginning to see yet another shift. Some communities turn back to their own life. Many communities are coming to realize that they are in their final decades; they realize that these may be the last decades of their community's life cycle. This is a time to reflect, give thanks and make some important decisions. During this year of consecrated life, it is a great opportunity to reflect on the great gift that we have received and all that we share with the people of God.