Vatican Meeting Discusses Religious Life

According to a Catholic Culture report citing Vatican journalist Andrea Tornielli, Pope Benedict XVI called a meeting with the leaders of the Roman Curia earlier this week to discuss several concerns about the state of religious life.

According to the report, the discussion included “the importance of maintaining separation between men’s and women’s religious communities; the limits of lay leadership (especially over priests); and the pitfalls of excessive devotion to the founder of a religious congregation or to an apostolic movement.

“In discussing the excesses that should be avoided in religious communities, the dicastery leaders reportedly emphasized that the commitment to a religious congregation or movement should never work against the unity of the universal Church, the authority of the teaching Magisterium, or the conscience of the individual member.”

New convent supports contemplative life of teaching sisters

Last Sunday the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia (aka the “Nashville Dominicans“) opened a new convent in the Baltimore area. The event generated very favorable coverage in the Baltimore Sun.

The convent is adjacent to Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville, which the sisters have helped staff for the past quarter of a century. Not surprisingly, the school has flourished under their watch:

“The academy’s student body is also expanding. Founded in 1852 by Visitation nuns in Georgetown, the school has seen its student population expand under the Dominican Sisters, a teaching order. It had 201 students in 1984, and will open its doors this fall to 507 girls.”

Loving God First

In a Homiletic and Pastoral Review article that was recently reprinted at, Fr. Basil Cole, O.P. offers “nine signs of steady growth” when it comes to the formation of priests and religious. While all nine signs are very important, I thought I would reprint here what Fr. Cole had to say about having “an undivided heart”:

“The eighth sign is traditionally called an undivided heart. What does this mean? At first glance, someone might come to the erroneous conclusion that all loves and desires are to die except for the love of God. Grace is supposed to deny nature or uproot it rather than elevate it. This is not so: all of one’s loves and desires are to be ordered properly among themselves with an orientation to and caused by the love of God. A person’s friends, love of food, music, or sports are to be joined with a love for God. This, then, is the undivided heart: loving God first and all else in him. All legitimate attachments to this world are thus properly ordered by reason and faith to God. This is evident by a person’s disposition to let things in his or her life go when they are either taken away by death or sickness or become an obstacle to one’s union with God.”

Read the entire article here. Also at Catholic Culture, Jeff Mirus applies Fr. Cole’s article to everyone’s growth in the spiritual life in this companion post.

Vocation or Job?

Fittingly on today’s feast of St. Anthony, the following is taken from the “Q and A with Fr. Anthony” feature at Fr. Anthony’s response provides sound analysis of the difference between pursing one’s vocation versus one’s job or profession. Enjoy!

There is a distinct difference between vocation and profession, although they are not mutually exclusive and do in fact overlap. Profession is a much more restricted term, which we use to indicate a career or a particular ability we develop, usually with the purpose of earning a livelihood and contributing in some way to the good of society, but always considered in a horizontal dimension. You don’t need to believe in God to choose a profession and exercise it in an outstanding way, doing much good to and for others in the process. A person can pick, choose and switch professions freely since the principal point of reference is his preferences, his own benefit and the opportunities he has.

But when we use the word vocation we introduce a vertical dimension into our life, especially into our thinking process and decisions, since the point of reference when we talk about vocation is God’s will–what we believe he is calling us to do with our life, the purpose for which he created us as it relates to the salvation of our own soul and the salvation of others. Continue reading Vocation or Job?

Vatican II on Fostering Religious Vocations

In paragraph 24 of Vatican II’s Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life (Perfectae Caritatis, 1965), we find this summary of what we might call “vocation ministry”:

“Priests and Christian educators should make serious efforts to foster religious vocations, thereby increasing the strength of the Church, corresponding to its needs. These candidates should be suitably and carefully chosen. In ordinary preaching, the life of the evangelical counsels and the religious state should be treated more frequently. Parents, too, should nurture and protect religious vocations in their children by instilling Christian virtue in their hearts.

“Religious communities have the right to make themselves known in order to foster vocations and seek candidates. In doing this, however, they should observe the norms laid down by the Holy See and the local Ordinary.

“Religious should remember there is no better way than their own example to commend their institutes and gain candidates for the religious life.”

Three things jumped off the page to me when I recently reread this document:

(1) Vatican II encourages more preaching on the evangelical counsels and the religious state, yet how often do we hear anything from the pulpit on the splendor of consecrated life?

(2) Parents not only nurture but protect their children’s vocations by instilling Christian virtue. One wonders how many religious vocations have been lost by parents’ failure to foster Christian virtue in the home through their own words and actions, and through the appropriate exercise of discipline.

(3) Religious have the right to promote their community, but in the end the most effective means of attracting young men and women is through their own personal witness of lives completely and joyfully given to the Lord.

Prayer, the Heart of a Vocation

I was perusing the vocation-related articles at Catholic Lane when I came across this piece on prayer and vocations by Fr. Kyle Schnippel, the vocation director for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

While we all know that daily prayer is the quintessential hallmark of all vocations in Christ, it’s good to be reminded of this fact and encouraged to foster not only our own prayer life but also the prayer life of our children. As Fr. Schnippel writes: 

“If we form our young people to be young men and women of prayer, they will naturally desire to follow wherever God leads in this life, ultimately as the pathway to the next life.”

New Religious Life Prefect Builds Bridges

Archbishop Aviz (CNS/Conference of Bishops of Brazil)

A recent Catholic News Service article entitled “Calming the waters: New Vatican official tries different approach” has been making its way through cyberspace. The article discusses the irenic approach of Archbishop João Bráz de Aviz, the new prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which oversees religious life for the universal Church.

The Archbishop’s commitment to “dialogue” and “fresh approaches” appeals to some religious superiors, who favor this style to that of his predecessor Cardinal Franc Rode, who was perceived as more of a hardliner.

I don’t know what to make of all this yet. On the one hand, Archbishop Aviz’ approach as it’s been reported seems absolutely appropriate. However, at some point Archbishop Aviz will have to take up the same hard issues facing religious life Continue reading New Religious Life Prefect Builds Bridges

A Fitting Anniversary Gift

Sometimes it’s really difficult to decide upon just the right anniversary gift. However, I think our readers will agree that the following recommendation from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for the upcoming 60th anniversary of Pope Benedict’s priestly ordination–Eucharistic adoration for priestly vocations–is right on the money.  

Church to Observe Pope’s 60th Anniversary of Ordination June 29th

WASHINGTON (May 26, 2011)—Catholics worldwide are asked to mark the sixtieth anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s ordination to the priesthood with sixty hours of Eucharistic prayer for vocations.

The pope will celebrate his anniversary June 29, the Solemnity of St. Peter and Paul.  In honor of his anniversary, the Vatican Congregation for Clergy suggested Catholic clergy and faithful be invited to participate in Eucharistic Adoration with the intention of praying for the sanctification of the clergy and for the gift of new and holy priestly vocations.

Dioceses nationwide are planning special prayers before the Blessed Sacrament in June, offered continuously or across various days in the month. Continue reading A Fitting Anniversary Gift

Vocation-related News

Here are some interesting vocation-related stories I came across last week, in case you missed them:

Catholic Sisters and the American Civil War  (Patheos) Dr. Pat McNamara remembers the Catholic religious sisters who served the sick and wounded during the Civil War.

Catholic nun’s gift to blind students  (The Standard) Sr. Catherine works to provide textbooks in Braille for visually impaired students in Zimbabwe.

Quiet revolution: New research spotlights role of black Catholic nuns in desegregation  (The Commercial Appeal) Doctoral student Shannen Williams brings to light the fascinating history of black Catholic nuns in 20th-century America.

Monks lay foundations where Jesus fed thousands (Scottish Catholic Observer) A Benedictine community living at an important biblical site in the Holy Land will be leaving their earthquake-prone monastery for a new home with help from Aid to the Church in Need.

Famed Kentucky abbey part of Trappists’ effort to promote vocations (Catholic News Service) The home of renowned Trappist monk Thomas Merton is joining forces with other Trappist communities to promote monastic vocations on a broader scale.

Twin friars die on same day of heart failure at age 92 (MSNBC) These brothers stuck together in every way!

Pope suppresses abbey of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

The Cistercian abbey linked to the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem (Santa Croce in Gerusalemme), one of the most revered basilicas in Rome, has been suppressed by a decree of the Holy See, following the results of an apostolic visitation that investigated allegations of improprieties.

The Cistercians had been at Santa Croce for nearly five centuries, since 1561, and at one stage the Abbot of Holy Cross was also the Abbot General of the entire order. Also, until quite recently the basilica was actually considered a success story in some circles. According to journalist John Allen, “the consensus was that a renaissance was unfolding under Cistercian Abbot Simone Maria Fioraso, an ecclesiastical mover and shaker if ever there was one. Vocations were growing, and the basilica had become a crossroads for Italian nobility, political VIPs, and pop culture icons.”

A few years ago, however, rumors surfaced that something wasn’t quite right. Some critics charged that Fioraso, who was removed a couple years ago by Vatican, seemed more interested in cozying up to social elites than in the traditional disciplines of the monastic life, while others raised questions about money management, especially given that the monks ran a successful boutique and hotel, apparently without clear accounting of the revenue flows. Even worse, there were rumblings concerning “inappropriate relationships” carried on by some of the monks.

These rumblings led to the apostolic visitation, which culminated in the dramatic decision to suppress the abbey entirely and to send its 20 or so monks packing. The decree was signed by Brazilian Archbishop João Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and by American Archbishop Joseph Tobin, his secretary. It was approved by Pope Benedict XVI.

This move is just the latest of decisive actions taken by Pope Benedict to address scandalous activity in some religious communities. May such efforts redound to the good of the Church and the authentic renewal of religious life.