Interest groups have replaced religious life in the Western world. Groups such as Focolare, Communione e Liberatione, the Neo-Catechumenate, to name a few, are reported to be the real fruits of the Vatican Council. Indeed,
a cardinal recently stated, “religious life in the West has committed suicide.” When I lived in Rome as Director of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation for my congregation, the Redemptorists, I heard many comments such as these.I offer a different perspective on religious life, one that stands strongly in the midst of malaise, and yes, even death. I offer a perspective of religious life that moves “awfully” in its rich and varied possibilities.
Religious Life Not Immune
The form of religious life that I entered over 38 years ago does not exist any more. I loved the journey, learned much, and sat at the feet of the “experts” of Vatican II. I walked with people trying to discern what it means to be human in a world of terrible poverty, to know God in a world of affluence. The scriptures were always near at hand. They continue to offer hope and direction.Modern religious life took its form in a world of Newtonian physics, a world influenced by the Enlightenment. We really did think that God “out there” and reason “in here” would help us live and be of God and “his”
will. This world has entered the history books. Our world is one of quantum physics where all reality is relational. Today many experience their lives and reality in angst and in need of purpose. Religious life is not immune. There are no longer privileged places outside the struggle. There is one life, one history and one journey.
Numerous reflections and analyses describe the “drift” of these times. Neither the “left” in politics nor the “prophetic” in the church have found a home or a creative moment. At the same time, there is a plethora of book and articles on religion and spirituality. Tomorrow’s Catholic, Religion in Exile, and The Changing Face of the Priesthood suggest new
directions but it is obvious there are no clear models. The way is found by delving into the Christian story and such resources that nurture our journey.
Religious life can offer a fresh invitation to life in a world dominated by idols, a life defined and interpreted by the market. Walter Brueggemann suggests that lives rooted deeply in memory of the biblical story have possibilities of bringing profound hope to these our times.As religious, we are called to be “…be sub-people, subversive, subverted, subverting, sub-rosa, subtle. We are on the ground, underneath official versions.”The sub-version of the dominant version, with its idols and market driven values, is a version deeply rooted in Real Presence and attentiveness. Religious life is an attempt to be attentive in this age of distractions. In order to pay attention and be a prophetic presence, religious life has to be part of the process of healing and repairing and transforming itself and the world.
Spirit of Jubilee
Although officially ended, the meaning of Jubilee continues as the heart of the gospel, the mission of Jesus. The freeing of peoples, debt release and right relations with mother earth and her species must be at the center of religious life. However, unless we know the gospel story well and are profoundly in touch with life in these times, our efforts will be misplaced.Misplaced anger, middle class guilt and frustration will not assist new possibilities for hope for a meaningful present and future. The task is to be the sub-version, to repair, to heal and transform. All the rest is commentary.
Paul E. Hansen