Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I'll have NUN of that, thank you.

The lack of vocations.
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Remember those scenes in the movie The Nun's Story? The chapter house and chapel filled to overflowing with nuns? The movie depicted pre-WWII convent life at a Mother house in Belgium. Years ago I was told by an older monk that after the wars, vocations to the religious life actually increased, especially contemplative life. On the other hand, a recent study suggests the decline in women's vocations was the result of the confusion in the aftermath of Vatican II, yet another expert believes the exodus actually began in the 1930's. I tend to agree with the later, thinking Audrey Hepburn's portrayal of Sr. Luke in The Nun's Story may be an example of that phenomenon. (Although, the intitial loss of contemplative vocations might have been more directly related to the confusion generated by the Council.)
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This is what the priests think happened.
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Italian Claretian Father Angelo Pardilla, author of "Religious Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," said the principal cause for the decline in women's vocations was that many religious misunderstood the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and lost a sense of their identity.
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Father Giancarlo Rocca, a scholar of the history of religious orders, questioned Father Pardilla's thesis in the review he wrote for the Vatican newspaper.
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Father Rocca agreed with Father Pardilla that factors contributing to the decline include materialism, secularism, the anti-authority movement of the late 1960s and declining family size.
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But he said a misreading of the Second Vatican Council could not be the prime culprit, because in many places the numbers began to drop in the 1930s, long before the council opened in 1962. For Father Rocca, the key is the emancipation of women. - CNS
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My thoughts.
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I think they are both right, although I tend to agree with Fr. Rocca that all of this started before the Council. Changes favoring modernization in the Church were well underway before there was even a thought for another Council - isn't that a major reason pre-Councilor popes wrote syllubi - to point out all the errors emerging from modernism and socialism and all the other isms encroaching upon the Church? Or maybe not.
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Nevertheless, I'm convinced the emancipation of women initiated the decline in vocations, although it seems to me there can be no doubt the Council opened wide the windows of the Roman Catholic Church to let in some "fresh air" as John XXIII said, and thus, with the doors wide open, quite a few went out and never came back... But a few came in as well. The younger vocations were women who had already been "emancipated" if you will. Women who entered the so-called active orders but who could no longer accept second class status in the Church, transferred here and there to do whatever they were told.
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What does obedience really mean today?
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I suspect what emancipation may have meant to many of "them", aside from not being obliged to walk around all bandaged up in heavy, constraining habits, and finally free to wear "the pants"; what it really meant is that they could put their academic degrees to work in diocesan and community administrative positions, rather than always being confined to the rather subservient role of school sister or nurse, subject to the discretion of men who ran the diocese, parishes, or institution. I honestly believe the perceived patriarchy in the Church became something of an affront to many women religious, whose counterparts in the world were breaking through all sorts of glass ceilings, while the sisters could sometimes be the subject of a 'lighthearted' ridicule, even by priests.
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Lay people and clergy alike will argue, "Obedience is part of the religious life, that is part of their vocation." True enough, but even the new sisters in the flourishing 'habited' congregations know obedience doesn't mean they are supposed to be a doormat. Contemplative vocations are a different matter, for both men or women I think. Without going into detail, I think that those who enter cloistered life and stay, have a different, much more profound, almost eschatological understanding of the vows and the purpose of the life.
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Independence.
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Yesterday, I watched a neighbor lady walking back from the grocery store in the heavy snow storm we were experiencing. She is in her early 60's, single - never married, and she is has a good career as a psychologist. She owns her house and car of course, she travels extensively, and she is athletic - in summer always off on bike trips, kayaking, rock climbing, and so on.
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As my neighbor walked by, I noticed she was wearing a long black coat with a knit, over sized black beret - she reminded me of a nun. I thought, 'Perhaps there goes a missed vocation?' She would have made a great nun - or sister in the world. Although in reality her life is not very different from the lives led by sisters from some of the established congregations that survived the Council. Some of whose members may live in private homes or apartments, have their own career, and are quite free to come and go as they please - as long as they check in, or get approval from someone. So what is the difference?
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Seeking God.
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I'm confident the big difference is that the religious, male or female, is seeking God - God alone - in a habit or out of a habit. Liberal or conservative. Why else would women become sisters if that were not the case? Religious life evolves and updates itself. Congregations come and go, yet in the Church there remain different charisms, different gifts. As St. Paul says, The body has different members, but all the members, though many, are one body - the body is not one member, but many. Indeed there is a hierarchy of members, yet all with their different gifts. Thus, I believe, for the most part, the religious who remained, and those coming in, recognize this and find freedom within these parameters.
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That said, I still believe the decline in vocations is rooted in the materialism and agnosticism of Western culture, and our pro-choice mentality. How else does one explain the growth of vocations from poorer regions of the world such as India, and Africa? The poor have great faith. This is just my opinion however. That said, I found a blog for nuns, with links to several other sister's blogs. I think the clergy and laity need to listen to all of the women religious who give their lives for the Church - then we may get to the bottom of this mystery.
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That aside, I thank God for all of the nuns we currently have and have had - we wouldn't be the Church we are without them. Perhaps we are a bit too late with all of this - only just now coming to fully appreciate a treasure we no longer have in such abundance.
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Link:
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A Nun's Life - a well connected blog about contemporary nuns.

7 comments:

  1. David5:01 PM

    I would think that woman's emancipation has surely contributed much to the decline in vocations...I mean way back in the day it was married or spinster, more or less, no? I also think that, along with this emmancipation, there grew the fuller appreciation of the lay Catholic as living a full Gospel life "in the world" and even in service to the institutional Church in many cases.

    HOWEVER...I do think that the mad rush out of convents in the 60s-70s in particular WAS because of the various Sisterhoods misunderstanding V-II teaching. I mean I know quite a few ex-nuns who all seem to indicate that the Congregation emerging from "General Chapters of Renewal" no longer resembled the Congregation they had entered and the Rule they pledged to observe. In many cases I would go further and say some Congrgegations would be hard-pressed to claim "Catholic" as an authentic adjective of their community.

    And I think this also brings up an important point. People speak of religious breaking or rejecting their vows when they leave a Congregation. BUT vows are made according to a specific form of life. For example "I vow chastity, poverty and obedience ACCORDING to the Rule of the (fill in the name)" So what happens when this Congregration to which and through which one as vowed no longer exists, materially speaking? It may exist formally but it is not even close to the entity to and thru which the vows were made? Did the goos religious REALLY abandon their Congregation OR...did the Congregation abandon them?

    BTW...I am an ex-religious and NOT a champion of the traditionalist camp. Just want to point both those things out for the sake of a more neutral discussion.

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  2. David5:04 PM

    Oh sorry but I forgot one thing...for the sake of a good honest discussion PLEASE let's NOT compare religious vows to those of matrimony and say "for better or worse, richer or poorer...til death do us part." That would be comparing apples to oranges IMO.

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  3. Thanks David - your points are well taken and are a great addition to the post - which was getting too long for me to give more time to.

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  4. Terry, I have nothing to add but a book recommendation for you:

    "The Spiral Staircase" by Karen Armstrong.

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  5. Thanks Mr. Tomnus - I'll look into that.

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  6. Anonymous4:37 AM

    Does anyone have any idea how Fr Angelo Pardilla's book, "Religious- yesterday, today and tomorrow" can be obtained ? I've almost begun to believe that it doesn't exist, as I can find hundreds of references to it but no one knows where I can get a copy....help please !
    Michael

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  7. Anonymous4:38 AM

    Does anyone have any idea how Fr Angelo Pardilla's book, "Religious- yesterday, today and tomorrow" can be obtained ? I've almost begun to believe that it doesn't exist, as I can find hundreds of references to it but no one knows where I can get a copy....help please !
    Michael

    ReplyDelete


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