Decay caused by a false reform and a distorted understanding of the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, and obedience)
By Paul Kokoski
Special to The B.C. Catholic
I am glad to read about the Vatican announcing a major reform of women’s religious in the U.S. (reported in The B.C. Catholic April 30 issue, Page 16).
The reform comes in light of their hardened defi ance of Catholic morality in areas of family life and human sexuality, and is meant to ensure the nuns’ fi delity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination, and homosexuality.
We often hear about a priest shortage, but perhaps less often that most religious communities, great and small, male and female, contemplative, active, or mixed, have been reduced to a fraction of their numbers in the past 50 years.
The cause of the decay has been a false reform and a distorted understanding of the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, and obedience). They have been taken as a psychological and sociological outlook rather than the basis for a state of life structured in accordance with the counsel Christ gives in the Gospels.
True renewal calls for an adaptation of external activities with a view to a more effective pursuit of holiness. It is begotten by a disgust with weakening of discipline and by a desire for a life that is more spiritual, more prayerful, more austere.
Today religious orders question themselves, confront experiences, demand creativity, search for a new identity (which implies each is becoming something other than itself), and move toward building “true communities” (as if for centuries past religious orders had consisted entirely of false communities).
Ultimately the crisis among religious is the result of an excessive conforming to the world, and a taking up of the world’s positions because one has despaired of winning the world over to one’s own.
A by no means small or unimportant sign of this alienation is the change in the dress of members of religious orders, inspired by a wish to be less different from secular persons.
This lack of clarity about religious life today has a parallel in the priesthood. On one hand there is obfuscation of the difference between the sacramental priesthood and the priesthood of all believers; and on the other, of the difference between the state of perfection and the common state. What is specific to religious life is washed out or watered down in thought and behaviour.
Take, for example, the three evangelical counsels, which are essential to religious life.
Today there is a certain distaste for chastity. A decline in delicacy and care are obvious not only in the widespread slackness in clerical dress, but in the more frequent mixing of the sexes, even on journeys, and in the abandonment of the precautions adopted even by great and holy men.
Lowering the principle of authority and mixing it up with a kind of fraternal relationship, by means of a fruitful dialogue, has lowered the concept of obedience. True Catholic obedience implies submission to the will of the superior – so long as the command is not manifestly illicit – and not a reexamination of the superior’s command by the one obeying.
Catholic obedience does not seek a coinciding of the wills of subject and superiors. Such an agreement negates any sacrifice of one’s own will by conforming it to somebody
else’s. It ultimately produces self-government, self-teaching, self-education, and even selfredemption.
This weakening in obedience has lead to a weakening of the spirit of unity. Individuals are now left to do the things proper to the religious state as if the community did not exist. Mass is said at any time, prayer is left to the spirituality of each person.
It is easy to see why some religious institutes have disappeared.
It is a contradiction in terms to join a community to do, individually, things one has joined the community to do in common.
In 2005, before his papal election, the future Pope Benedict XVI issued a resounding call for reform of religious life. He lamented, “How much filth there is in the Church, and
even among those in the priesthood.”
In May 2010 he reiterated this plea, stating: “Today we see in a really terrifying way that the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from the enemies outside, but is born from the sin in the Church.”
These exhortations were widely interpreted as references to the sex-abuse scandal affecting the Church’s standing in North America and other parts of the world. However, the Pope’s comments were also directed more widely to the phenomenon of modernism that is poisoning the Church at its core.
This modernism is the result of decades of liberal exegetical, theological, and “pastoral” creativity in the name of Vatican II. One of the key areas where modernism has been allowed to take root and spread is among women religious.
Thankfully there are still some contemplative orders who have never given up the vision of the eternal Church and have passed this on to younger religious, who in scattered
places preserve the apostolic faith much as the monks did on their lonely islands during the Dark Ages.
This gives hope the Church will be revitalized, becoming once more a vehicle for re-Christianizing the world.