Friday, September 6, 2013

A Final Profession

At Saint Paul's College (photo) in Washington, DC, a Paulist student is making his Final Profession later today. In the contemporary American religious landscape, such events happen insufficiently often - or, more precisely, perhaps they happen often enough but with an insufficient number of persons being professed. So every such celebration is an especially important and hopeful occasion - affirming not only the life-long commitment of the individual Religious making his or her profession, but also the ongoing vitality of religious life and its continuing importance in the mission and life of the Church.

It is true, of course, that religious life is not intrinsically necessary for the Church's survival - in the specific sense that, for example, the sacrament of holy orders is necessary in order to provide the community with the validity ordained clergy needed to continue the mission and life of the Church. 

But to stop there would at best reflect an historically and spiritually minimalist experience of Church. For religious life, in one form or other, has existed in the Church and has enriched the Church's mission and life since the Patristic era. In the first millennium, religious life was primarily monastic (as it still is primarily in the Eastern Churches). "Monastic," of course, is a term which covers a lot of territory. The forms of religious life which developed and flourished in the first millennium involved both men and women, took both eremitic and cenobitic forms, and were found in both urban and rural (and, of course, desert) locations. The second millennium saw a flourishing of non-monastic, "apostolic" forms of religious life - canons regular, mendicants, Jesuits, societies without vows, etc. All these made a vital contribution to the the Church at the time of their founding, and they survive in the Church today as living witnesses to complementary aspects of discipleship, each community highlighting its distinctive emphasis - prayer, poverty, ministry to the poor and marginalized, teaching, evangelization, etc. No doubt, this third millennium will require - and produce - distinct expressions of religious life attuned to its particular needs and the new manners. At the same time, the older expressions of religious life will likely continue to be needed to continue to make more evident and prominent their particular - and perennially relevant - emphases.

As Servant of God Isaac Hecker wrote, reflecting late in his life on his own experience as a religious founder, "A new religious order is the expression or evidence of an uncommon or special grace given to a certain number of souls in order to sanctify themselves by the practice of certain virtues to meet the special needs of their epoch and in this way to renew the life of the members of the Church and extend her fold."

No comments:

Post a Comment