Symposium looks at ‘Reclaiming the Treasure’ of religious life
By Neil W. McCabe
More than 650 consecrated religious attended the “Symposium on Apostolic Life: Religious Life Since Vatican II ... Reclaiming the Treasure” held Sept. 27 at Stonehill College. Pilot photo/ Gregory L. Tracy
EASTON -- The prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life joined the “Symposium on Apostolic Life: Religious Life Since Vatican II ... Reclaiming the Treasure,” a frank exploration of consecrated life hosted at Stonehill College Sept. 27. The symposium was held in honor of the archdiocese’s bicentennial.
Cardinal Franc Rode, CM, who delivered the afternoon’s keynote address and celebrated the closing Mass, brought the broader perspective of the universal Church as the pope’s representative for consecrated life, said Father Mark T. Cregan, CSC, the college’s president. “Plus, I think he is delighted to be here to celebrate the bicentennial of the archdiocese.”
Once they had settled on the idea of a symposium, Father Cregan approached Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley to see if it was an event he would welcome. With the cardinal’s approval, the college president asked Bishop George W. Coleman, the Bishop of Fall River, if he would act as the co-host. “Given who we are, an academic institution, when we say celebration, usually we mean something intellectual.”
Although Stonehill is located within the Diocese of Fall River, the school owns property in Brockton and is active in the Catholic schools of Brockton, which is part of the Archdiocese of Boston, he said.
The organizers were expecting 250 attendees, and instead there were more than 650 registered participants, said Bishop Coleman.
“I come among you as a brother religious who has experienced the adventure and the turmoil of the renewal of consecrated life called for by the Second Vatican Council. This extraordinary experience has made me who I am and has shaped the words I address to you today with immense affection and hope,” the prefect said in his address.
The role of consecrated religious in both the history of the Church and of civil society has always been vital, he said.
“Even a sketchy overview of history can show abundant evidence that, without the presence and activity of monks and nuns, religious women and men, despite their acknowledged cultural and historical limitations, the history of Western civilization and the evangelization of vast areas of the globe would be immensely poorer,” he said. “The history of the Church in the United States of America is rich with the contributions of consecrated men and women who have left an indelible mark on the culture.”
There is a crisis in religious life, especially in those who have struggled with the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council, and its document on religious life, “Perfectae Caritatis,” he said. In the period of innovation that followed the council, some religious orders mistook the spirit of renewal to license rupture, rather than reform.
This rupture from tradition and from the charism of their founders has fundamentally changed how many religious have made public witness to their consecrated life and how they maintained their vows of obedience, poverty and chastity, he said.
Although, many religious are distressed and resigned to accept the decline of consecrated life, it is significant that those orders founded at the time of or after the Second Vatican Council are growing and have not experienced the turmoil as the older orders, he said. These growing orders have embraced many of the routines and customs of consecrated life rejected by the other orders in their spirit of rupture, he said.
When the remaking of religious life made consecrated life so similar to the lifestyle of those not bound by vows, vocations suffered as there no longer seemed to be a reason to enter religious life, he said.
In its worst manifestation the spirit of rupture has led some Catholic religious to reject their Catholicism, he said.
“It would seem superfluous to make this remark, for one would imagine there is no discussion on this point. However, we have all, sadly, experienced the presence of groups or individuals who, by their own admission, have ‘moved beyond the Church,’ yet remain externally ‘in’ the Church,” he said.
“Surely, such an ambivalent existence cannot bring forth fruits of joy and peace, neither for themselves nor for the Church. We pray that the Holy Spirit will give them the light to see the path to true peace and freedom, and the courage to follow it,” he said.
The morning’s keynote speaker, theologian Sister Sara Butler, MSBT, delivered an address called, “Apostolic Religious Life: A Public, Ecclesial Vocation,” in which she said the increasingly progressive leadership of religious orders threatens the Catholic character of the orders and is polarizing those in religious life. This is occurring despite the fact that the vast majority of consecrated religious are not progressive, even in progressive orders.
“The problem is not only that so few are joining our ranks,” Sister Sara said. “It is that the current polarization and division in the Church at large is found among us as well. It exists in the uneasy and even fractured relationships among our apostolic institutes, within many of our institutes, and -- for many -- in the relationships of religious with the diocesan clergy, the bishops and the Holy See.”
Sister Sara said, “The reality of this polarization is more than regrettable; it is a cause of scandal. It is a counter-sign. We are called to be vivid, visible signs of the kingdom and to attract others to Christ and his Church by the joyful witness of our consecrated lives.”
This polarization continues abetted by bishops unwilling to confront progressive religious, she said.
Part of the problem was timing, she said. The 1960s and 1970s were the worst times to initiate reforms, given the turmoil and strife that marked those decades. This was especially true, considering the Second Vatican Council’s emphasis on the apostolic at the expense of the monastic, she said.
Because much of the apostolic impulse was expressed through participation in social justice crusades, after religious had finished fighting for civil rights or to end the Vietnam War, they turned the tactics and revolutionary fervor towards perceived injustices inside the Church, she said.
The other aspect of the problem was that Church leaders underestimated the strength of radical feminism in the United States, she said. This strain of feminism is no longer a part of the conversation in civil society, but it remains ascendant within religious communities, she said.
|Page 1 of 2
If you found this article interesting please consider helping us continue to spread the Good News.