As I was wandering through the blogs I have come across and liked, I found an article referenced at The Opinionated Catholic about Clear Creek Monastery. It reminded me of an article I saved from the local paper a month or so back, thinking, “Hmmph. I’m going to have to blog about this at some point…”
The article in the paper talked about the dwindling numbers of Immaculate Heart of Mary nuns in a “convent” that’s located in a subdivision; just a normal house, really, with a big cross on the side. The nuns work at various jobs (including one who is a secretary at a Protestant church), read America (the Jesuit magazine; it apparently hasn’t been theologically sound for many years), and support each other. Originally, the IHM’s were founded to teach, but nearly half of the order left to become lay people again as it reconfigured shortly after Vatican II. Of the sisters left, many went out to find jobs where they felt called, often not in teaching positions.
Similarly, our local paper’s religion section (constantly in search of something to say, whether or not it’s intelligent) picked up some pre-digested feature from some national news generator on oh-my-gosh a young nun! Who wears a suit with “sensible shoes”, likes Melissa Etheridge, has an iPod, catches mass “whenever”, and, from what I remember, doesn’t actually work in a church or church-related charity and lives alone.
Um… that’s nice, I guess, but hardly something you might be willing to give your life to. Which is reflected in their order’s (and many other orders’) average age being in the lower 60’s, at best. In their eagerness to be more “modern”, more acceptable to the world, they’ve forgotten something:
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2, RSV)
The article that the Opinionated Catholic cited talks about a religious order of an entirely different character than those my local paper prefers to highlight. Like many other orders going back to the roots of monasticism, the Clear Creek Monks are more traditional. They celebrate mass in Latin, wear traditional habits, do a lot of prayer, sing Gregorian chant, and work hard on their monastery grounds. The latest newsletter I received from them talked about how the economic downturn had negatively affected donations to their monastery. Still flooded with young men answering God’s call to be monks, the brothers have set about building simple sheds and such to house the new vocations.
Their average age is far, far below 60. As is the average age of a number of other orders, including several orders of nuns, who frequently send newsletters out saying, “Yes, we have a vocations crisis; we just finished the expansion of the Motherhouse, but have such a huge number of new novices, that we’ve had to put people to sleep in what was supposed to be the sewing room again!” These sisters and brothers shine with the joy of finding just where God has called them; it’s so infectious, you just want to smile when you see them. (and not just when they’re playing disc football, which seems to be what was going on below. Go see lots of great photos of the monks, their monastery, the new makeshift cells, the sheep and cheese and woodworking, etc. here.)
What’s the difference?
I would submit that the difference is faithfulness to the timeless call of religious life. Young people aren’t looking for something nearly like being a lay person, but with a bit of oversight and maybe some housemates. You can have that without much of any committment at all.
Apparently, young people do answer the call to dedicate their lives to God through traditional religious orders. Full, traditional habits. Some are fully cloistered communities. All have intentionally made moves to return to the original focusing reason that their orders were founded, whether that mission was teaching, preaching, or prayer.
There’s a lesson to be learned here about the wisdom of following our founding documents. The amorphous mess often pushed in the Catholic Church as the “spirit” of Vatican II is gradually dying out in the face of those Catholics (including the last two popes) who are dedicated to the wisdom of what the documents from that council actually said. (Hint: it wasn’t about tambourines at mass.)
The 60’s-commune version of religious life is dying. Quickly. It is being superseded by a return to vibrant, joyful, and decidedly youthful orders dedicated to renewing, strengthening, and praying for the Church. Some are new orders, some are offshoots of older orders, some are reinvigorated orders returning to their calling. But the true-to-the-foundation orders are starting to flourish again.
(Strangely, we’re watching something very similar happening on the American political scene. Are we going to adhere to the ideals and trajectory set by our founding documents, or drown in the quicksand of the “living Constitution”?)
The shifting sand of, “Well, this is what we are today,” does not demand loyalty… or even respect.
The solid ground of, “This is who we are, what we do, and what we believe. Come join us!” attracts people who sometimes weren’t even quite aware they were looking for something. It isn’t overconfidence or false hope; there is something you can see in their faces: this is the Real Deal. And they’re so excited about what they’ve found, that they can’t wait to share it with everybody.
Why accept the watered-down version?