Category Archives: General interest

Religious Life Has Its Advantages

St. Alphonsus Liguori

Or so says St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), the founder of the Redemptorists and renowned Doctor of the Church. I heartily encourage our readers to check out his essay entitled, “The Advantages of the Religious State.” This essay is really nothing other than a profound meditation on these words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), another Doctor of the Church, concerning consecrated life:

“Is not that a holy state in which a man lives more purely, falls more rarely, rises more speedily, walks more cautiously, is bedewed with the waters of grace more frequently, rests more securely, dies more confidently, is cleansed more quickly, and rewarded more abundantly?”

These words may seem controversial–and decidedly undemocratic–to contemporary ears, as they unabashedly extol the excellence of a life completely consecrated to God. May many have ears to hear.

As we’ve now begun the Lenten journey, and have recalled our own mortality (“Remember man that you are dust . . .”), those contemplating their state of life do well to consider St. Alphonsus’ wise admonition:

“Some are deterred from entering religion by the apprehension that their abandonment of the world might be afterwards to them a source of regret. But in making choice of a state of life I would advise such persons to reflect not on the pleasures of this life, but on the hour of death, which will determine their happiness or misery for all eternity.”

For the entirety of St. Alphonsus’ essay, click here.

Nuns, Monks, Friars Linkfest

Elizabeth Scalia

Benedictine Oblate Elizabeth Scalia, the managing editor of the Catholic portal at Patheos, had a wonderful post a couple weeks ago at her blog (“The Anchoress”) entitled “Nuns, Monks, Friars Linkfest!” The post contained a wealth of interesting news items and reports on several flourishing religious communities.

I have rarely encountered a blog post with so many links (I counted nearly 50, I guess that’s why it’s a linkfest!). The links are fantastic–very informative. I was especially happy to see that there were three links pertaining to the awesome, coffee-making Carmelite monks in Wyoming.

Apostleship of Prayer

I always keep on my desk a leaflet from the Apostleship of Prayer, containing the Pope’s intentions for each month. It just dawned on me that this would be a most helpful thing to post at the beginning of each month.

It’s good to recall that all vocations come through the Church. They’re not about “doing our own thing.” Uniting ours prayers with those of the Holy Father and the universal Church is an excellent way to open ourselves to God’s personal call in our lives.

Before giving the Pope’s intentions for March (I’m almost a week late, so another few minutes won’t hurt anybody), I’d like to recommend two privileged times for remembering the Pope’s intentions:

First, there’s the Morning Offering, which is a great way to commit our day to the Lord:

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day, in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and for all the intentions recommended by our Holy Father this month. Amen.

Second, there’s the family Rosary. At the beginning or end of the Rosary, to gain the indulgence for praying the Rosary–and again to manifest the unity of our prayer with that of the universal Church–it’s customary to pray an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for the Pope’s intentions.

But what are the Pope’s intentions this month? Here they are:

Latin American Nations.  That the nations of Latin America may walk in fidelity to the Gospel and progress in justice and peace.

Persecuted Christians.  That the Holy Spirit may give light and strength to those in many regions of the world who are persecuted and discriminated against because of the Gospel.

I will post his intentions for subsequent months at the beginning of each month. In the meantime, check out the website of the Apostleship of Prayer for more information on this pious practice.

Religious Names to Avoid

Yesterday we received a letter from our delightful daughter, Sr. Mary Kate. This one was special as it’s the last letter we will receive from her until after Easter.

One area of  discernment and discussion among the postulants is the new religious name they will receive upon entering the novitiate this summer. The postulants have considerable input on this, though the final decision comes from the mother superior.

Anyway, Sr. Mary Kate said that she and some other postulants had fun one afternoon coming up with a list of names never to take–a process of elimination, of sorts. So, for your amusement, here are some of the names they came up with:

  1. Sr. Rosary Bede (after Venerable Bede, of course)
  2. Sr. Polycarp Esther (or Sr. Polyesther, for short)
  3. Sr. Chrysostom Chrysologus
  4. Sr. Esther Sylvester
  5. Sr. Dies Domini (although every Sunday would be her feast day!)
  6. Sr. Michael Jordan
  7. Sr. Immolata Victima Sanguine (one of the professed suggested this, with a straight face, to a peppy, personable postulant)

Can you come up with any other religious names to avoid?

Sacrifice and Vocations

Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

With Lent only a week away, I thought readers might be interested in “Sacrifice and Vocations,” a reflection by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., the late founder of the IRL.

In this reflection, Fr. Hardon notes that instilling in our children a spirit of sacrifice goes hand in hand with fostering vocations. He says that God “generally calls those persons to follow Him as priests or religious, who have been taught the value of sacrifice from childhood.”

He further explains:

“The experience of self-denial in the use and enjoyment of material things is the normal predisposition for a lifetime practice of evangelical poverty. Training in self-control of the senses, especially in the use of the media, is the ordinary preparation for a lifelong dedication to consecrated chastity. Careful and loving nurture in self-denial, almost from infancy, is God’s usual way of conditioning the human will for commitment to the counsel of obedience.”

Click here for access to a dozen of Fr. Hardon’s beautiful reflections on religious and priestly vocations.

Newest Consecrated Virgin

Elizabeth Lam, photo courtesy of Jose Luis Aguirre/The Catholic Voice

Last week, my friend Elizabeth Lam became a consecrated virgin in and for the Diocese of Oakland. Bishop Salvatore Cordileone was the presider for the rite of consecration, which was performed in the context of a Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the Light.

Elizabeth is not bound to a religious community, but rather lives in the world. Through her consecration, she has made a total gift of herself to the local Church under the leadership of her bishop. 

There are only about 200 consecrated virgins in the United States, but there is a revival of this ancient rite taking place. As Bishop Cordileone noted at the outset of  his homily, some of the most revered saints of Christian antiquity were consecrated virgins, like Sts. Cecilia, Lucy, Agnes, and Agatha.

For more information, check out the following links:

JPII’s Vocation

As I was navigating through the outstanding new Vocation Boom website, I stumbled upon this short video in which Pope John Paul II comments on his own vocation story. 

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been five years since JPII’s death. The images, events, and messages in this clip will bring back many inspiring memories of  his amazing pontificate, as we count down the days until his beatification.

Looking for Nuns in All the Right Places

In recent weeks we have offered some commentary on the February 2, 2011 CARA report on the profession class of 2010.

Today at the National Catholic Register blog, Tim Drake offers additional commentary on the report. 

Drake cites one Church source, corroborated by other studies, who says that the CARA report ignores the ‘elephant in the room,’ namely, “the rather obvious fact that religious communities that preserve traditional elements such as the habit, common prayer, communal life, focused apostolates, and strong affirmation of Church teaching, are doing well in comparison to orders that do not.”

Drake also notes that the CARA report does not examine the difference in those joining orders associated with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) versus those joining the smaller Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR). A 2009 study showed that just 1% of religious orders associated with the LCWR have more than 10 women in the process of joining, whereas among the CMSWR, 28% reported having 10 or more candidates.

Why Did the Religious Cross the Road?

The Apostle of the Interior Life crossed the road to give spiritual direction.

The Benedictine crossed the road to pray and work.

The Camaldolese crossed the road to build a hermitage.

The Carmelite crossed the road (barefoot) to find a secluded place to pray.

The Daughter of St. Paul crossed the road to open a Catholic bookstore.

The Dominican crossed the road to preach the Gospel.

The Father of Mercy crossed the road to give a parish mission.

The Franciscan crossed the road to be an instrument of peace (and to make sure the chicken was okay).

The Jesuit crossed the road for the greater glory of God.

The Mercedarian crossed the road to set captives free.

The Missionary of Charity crossed the road to reach out to the poorest of the poor.

The Norbertine crossed the road to rebuild Western civilization.

The Oblate of the Virgin Mary crossed the road to give a retreat.

The Passionist crossed the road to proclaim Christ crucified.

The Salesian crossed the road to educate young men.

The Servant of Mary crossed the road to care for a sick person in his or her own home.

The Sister of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration crossed the road to spend time with Jesus.

The Sister of Life crossed the road to bear witness to the value of every human life.

The Ursuline crossed the road to educate young women.

We all eventually cross the road. Why we cross the road makes all the difference.

Fully Alive in Christ!

Sr. Mary Kate with her father

One of my favorite lines from Fr. John Hardon, the late, great Jesuit theologian whose cause for sainthood is working its way through the Church, is: “even a corpse can float downstream.”

Yet, as Saint Irenaeus famously said, “The glory of God is man fully alive!” If we are fully alive in Christ, then we have the vitality to swim against the current, to work against the pull of the flesh that wants to drag us downstream. And there is no neutrality here: if we do nothing but “go with the flow,” then we will be dragged along with those who have made a conscious decision in favor of the “flesh” as opposed to the lifegiving “spirit.”

Those who are faithfully answering the radical call to the consecrated life are the most “alive” people I’ve ever encountered. A few months ago my wife Maureen and I had the privilege of visiting with our daughter at the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. What struck me even more than the calls to chastity and obedience was the way they live the call to poverty.

Like the woman in the Gospel who was healed of her infirmity and was able to stand upright for the first time in many years, these beautiful young ladies are not “bent over” and worried about things here below. Rather, with Our Lord as their strength and constant companion, they see things from a more God-centered perspective. They are free. They appreciate and enjoy everything. They are not bored or thinking about what they’ve “given up” or don’t have. What an amazing paradox: By becoming poor, they have truly become rich!

I’m particularly drawn to Eucharistic Prayer III. One phrase from that prayer that has had rich meaning for me through the years is, “Father, hear the prayers of the family you have gathered here . . .” as I’ve written frequently on the image of the Church as the “family of God” as well as on the “parish family.”

But at Mass the week Sr. Mary Kate entered the Dominicans, it was the next line that really struck me: “In mercy and love unite all your children wherever they may be.”

Even though Sr. Mary Kate is now a thousand miles away, we are still united in God’s mercy and love, particularly through our participation in the Eucharist and in the life of the Church in general (a “communion of saints” thing). This is another one of those teachings to which we give notional assent, but every now and then we have moments in which a truth of the faith penetrates us in a more real, experiential way.

It’s all right here in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 2232-33):

“Family ties are important but not absolute. Just as the child grows to maturity and human and spiritual autonomy, so his unique vocation which comes from God asserts itself more clearly and forcefully. Parents should respect this call and encourage their children to follow it. They must be convinced that the first vocation of the Christian is to follow Jesus: ‘He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me’ (Mt 10:37). . . .

“Parents should welcome and respect with joy and thanksgiving the Lord’s call to one of their children to follow Him in virginity for the sake of the Kingdom in the consecrated life or in priestly ministry.”

This brings me back to the call to poverty. Young religious need to incorporate a healthy spirit of detachment from worldly things, including even one’s family, if they are to be “worthy” disciples of Christ. This assuredly means swimming upstream, and I was so impressed with how well the young sisters seemed to be making this transition, despite the inherent difficulty.

It’s also a challenge for parents to have their son or daughter enter religious life, especially when they enter right out of high school. We had about as much advance warning as possible (Sr. Mary Kate told me when she was 5 that she wanted to be a nun), and it was still a shock to the system.

I think that letting go of a child who is entering religious life is an act of poverty on our part. We not only are creating “space” for our children to seek evangelical perfection, but also growing in our own feeble spirit of sacrifice and detachment. Not surprisingly, Maureen and I have become fast friends with a whole fraternity of families who are also going through the same process.

Please remember in your prayers for religious vocations those who have already responded and, like Sr. Mary Kate, are going through the initial stages of their formation. And while you’re at it, please pray for their families, too!

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2011 issue of Religious Life, the bimonthly magazine of the Institute on Religious Life.