instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, August 21, 2009

Whose Church is it, anyway?

In a post last week on the Archdiocese of Washington's blog, Msgr. Charles Pope writes:
I remember talking to several Benedictine Sisters at a recent workshop. Their branch of the Benedictines has become very modernized and hasn't had a vocation in years. When I asked them why they hadn't consider changing their approach, they gave me a rather surprising answer. They indicated that maybe it was time for Religious Life to largely go away and to hand the Church back to its "rightful owners," the laity. Wow! They seemed to have lost any notion of the Charism of Religious Life.
"Maybe it's time to hand the Church back to its rightful owners" isn't how I'd put it, but there may be a nugget of truth to the sisters' answer.

On the one side, there's little point to Religious Life without a distinct purpose or mission. If a religious congregation effectively operates for the benefit of the individual members, rather than as a means to employ the charism given to the congregation by God for the good of the Church, then it's not acting as an institute of religious life so much as an association of lay faithful.

On the other side, where there is need to fulfill a distinct purpose or mission today, Plan A doesn't have to be, "Hey kids, let's found a religious congregation!" Secular layfolk -- individually or in a group, in spare hours or as a profession -- can do a lot of the work, within and at the borders of the Church, that once would have been done only by, or at least under the near direction of, vowed religious.

And I agree with Msgr. Pope. If you think your religious congregation isn't worth perpetuating into the next generation, then you think your religious congregation has no charism. It's a silly thing to think when your religious congregation is Benedictine, but there it is.