Category Archives: News

Cardinal Rode Concerned About Secularization of Religious Communities

Cardinal Franc Rode

Religious orders face continued pressures to “secularize,” and this threatens their identities and their mission in the world. This is according to Cardinal Franc Rode, who is stepping down as head of the Vatican office on religious life (officially known as the “Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life“).

Cardinal Rode made these remarks in an interview last week with Vatican Radio as reported by the Catholic News Agency/EWTN News. This is a recurring theme, as he has cited the influence of secularism as well as feminism as reasons for the recent apostolic visitation of U.S. religious sisters.

While affirming the “spiritual liveliness and missionary dynamism” of religious communities throughout the Church’s history, he candidly admitted the challenges they face in today’s world. “Religious life is in difficulty today and this must be recognized,” he noted.

He is especially concerned that works of charity have frequently degenerated into mere social work, which he said causes harm to the proclamation of the Gospel. When that happens, communities pursue “a society of well-being” here and now, rather than questions of eternity.

While there are signs of secularization everywhere, Cardinal Rode said that they are most prominent in the West.

At the same time, Cardinal Rode expressed his confidence in the new religious communities springing up in places such as France, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Peru, and the U.S. which are “surging against the spirit of secularism.”

“These communities give great importance to prayer and to the fraternal life lived in community; they insist on poverty and obedience: all take the religious habit, a visible sign of their consecration,” he explained.

“[They] call man to his transcendent destiny and constitute a force of renewal, of which the Church has a great need.”

USA Today on Religious Vocations

In this article, the USA Today comments on the CARA report earlier this month on women religious who took their final vows in 2010. The article focuses on the disappointing statistic that more than half of the sisters were discouraged by a family member in pursuing their vocation.

In most families that I’ve encountered, the problem is that religious vocations are not adequately valued. Contraception, the natural but at times inordinate desire for grandchildren, lukewarm faith, poor formation, and secular values are but a few of the factors that come into play, along with the normal emotions that go with having a loved one more away, potentially forever.

Maybe in the cases in which the family isn’t on board with the decision, the young woman’s vocation may be a catalyst for the conversion of the family . . .

Message for World Day of Prayer for Vocations

Last week, the Vatican released Pope Benedict XVI’s message for the 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which will be celebrated later this spring. The entire message, entitled “Proposing Vocations in the Local Church,” may be accessed here.

Here is an inspiring excerpt from the Holy Father’s message:

“Particularly in these times, when the voice of the Lord seems to be drowned out by ‘other voices’ and His invitation to follow Him by the gift of one’s own life may seem too difficult, every Christian community, every member of the Church, needs consciously to feel responsibility for promoting vocations. It is important to encourage and support those who show clear signs of a call to priestly life and religious consecration, and to enable hem to feel the warmth of the whole community as they respond ‘yes’ to God and the Church. . . .

“It is essential that every local Church become more sensitive and attentive to the pastoral care of vocations, helping children and young people in particular at every level of family, parish and associations–as Jesus did with His disciples–to grow into a genuine and affectionate friendship with the Lord, cultivated through personal and liturgical prayer; to grow in familiarity with the sacred Scriptures and thus to listen attentively and fruitfully to the Word of God; to understand that entering into God’s will does not crush or destroy a person, but instead leads to the discovery of the deepest truth about ourselves; and finally to be generous and fraternal in relationships with others, since it is only in being open to the love of God that we discover true joy and the fulfilment of our aspirations.”

2010 Profession Class, By the Numbers

What do we know about the women religious in the United States who made their final vows this past year?

Plenty!

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) released a report last week on the women who professed perpetual vows in 2010. This report, commissioned by the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), contains an overwhelming amount of statistics and demographic data.

Here, I will provide a “top ten” list of findings that I found most significant:

(1) 77% of the sisters have three or more siblings (the average was five), while only one sister reported being an only child.

Need I say any more about the critically important role of large Catholic families as fertile ground for religious vocations? The generosity of Catholic parents who are open to life speaks volumes to their children.

(2) Prayer matters.

74% had attended a retreat prior to entering the community, and two-thirds of them prayed the Rosary and participated in Eucharistic adoration on a regular basis before entering religious life. While this is a positive stat, I hope that the other one-third picked up these religious practices after they joined! 

(3) 52% reported that they were encouraged by other religious to consider religious life.

And nine out of ten reported that they were encouraged by someone in their life. This stat shows the importance of inviting others to “come and see,” and of supporting them in their discernment process. This is especially important in light of the next item.

(4) 66% reported that they were discouraged from considering a vocation by one or more persons.

Even more, 51% reported that they faced opposition within their own families! It makes one wonder how we can make families a more hospitable seedbed for vocations. Certainly a renewal of faith and sense of vocation among Catholic parents is crucial if we are to reverse this trend. 

(5) 78% had already completed some college, and 59% had already graduated from college at the time they entered the religious institute.

The new sisters are well-educated, not only for work in education or health care, but other fields as well. The one balancing factor is that this goes hand in hand with older vocations, as the median age of the sisters is 44.

(6) Kudos to Franciscan University!

Six percent reported that a youth conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville played a role in their religious vocation. Makes me proud to be an alumnus.

(7) World Youth Day.

A staggering 20% of the sisters reported that they participated at a World Youth Day prior to entering their religious community. Memo to pastors: Keep these pilgrimages in the budget!

(8) The median age at which the sisters began considering a possible vocation to religious life was 18.

The mean was 20, as some older vocations skewed the average. This points to the critical importance of college campus ministry and evangelization programs like the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).

(9) 51% attended Catholic elementary school and 25% attended Catholic high school.

This figure isn’t that impressive to me. Where did all the others go? At some point, it would be useful to distinguish between those who were homeschooled by Catholic parents versus those who attended public or non-sectarian private schools.

Still, the figures here are above the national averages for Catholics in the United States. Since Catholic schools continue to be such a significant source of religious vocations, the ongoing religious formation of Catholic school teachers must be a priority. Also, in light of (3), I think the more religious we have in the Catholic schools, the more likely it is that the school will foster religious vocations.

(10) 84% of superiors reported no new religious professions, and another 13% reported only one.

That means 311 of the communities that participated in the survey did not have anyone take final vows. Many of those communities are aging and have not had many vocations in recent years. While it’s a fact of Church life that some religious communities die out and others spring up, I found the numbers this year a bit sobering. So let’s get busy, people! All of us have the duty to pray for vocations to the religious life, and to support those who have already entered. 

Beyond all the numbers, though, the most important consideration is that we have all these beautiful sisters who have now consecrated their lives completely to Christ. What a blessing for them, and for the Church!

Intimate Friendship with Christ

Pope Benedict XVI devoted his weekly general audience last Wednesday to St. Teresa of Avila (1515-82), one of the most revered spiritual guides in the history of the Church.  

While the Pope  gave a brief overview of her life and her reform of the Carmelite order, he spent most of his address on her immense contributions to Catholic spirituality, noting “her profound christocentric spirituality and her breadth of human experience.”

The most important lesson of St. Teresa, the Pope said, is her understanding of “prayer as an intimate friendship with Christ leading to an ever greater union of love with the Blessed Trinity.”

Here is an excerpt from the Holy Father’s address:

“It is not easy to summarize in a few words the profound and complex Teresian spirituality. I would like to mention some essential points.

“In the first place, St. Teresa proposes the evangelical virtues as the basis of all Christian and human life–in particular, detachment from goods or evangelical poverty (and this concerns all of us); love for one another as the essential element of community and social life; humility as love of the truth; determination as fruit of Christian audacity; theological hope, which she describes as thirst for living water–without forgetting the human virtues: affability, veracity, modesty, courtesy, joy, culture.

“In the second place, St. Teresa proposes a profound harmony with the great biblical personalities and intense listening to the Word of God. She felt in consonance above all with the bride of the Canticle of Canticles and with the Apostle Paul, as well as with the Christ of the passion and with the Eucharistic Jesus. 

“The saint stressed how essential prayer is; to pray, she said, ‘means to frequent with friendship, because we frequent Him whom we know loves us.’ St. Teresa’s idea coincides with the definition that St. Thomas Aquinas gives of theological charity, as ‘amicitia quaedam hominis ad Deum,’ a type of friendship of man with God, who first offered his friendship to man; the initiative comes from God (cf. Summa Theologiae II-II, 23, 1).

“Prayer is life and it develops gradually at the same pace with the growth of the Christian life: It begins with vocal prayer, passes to interiorization through meditation and recollection, until it attains union of love with Christ and with the Most Holy Trinity. Obviously, it is not a development in which going up to the higher steps means leaving behind the preceding type of prayer, but is rather a gradual deepening of the relationship with God, which envelops our whole life. More than a pedagogy of prayer, St. Teresa’s is a true ‘mystagogy’: She teaches the reader of her works to pray while praying herself with Him; frequently, in fact, she interrupts the account or exposition to burst out in a prayer.”

For the entire text of the Pope’s general audience, click here.

Consecrated Life: A Precious Gift for the Church

At the conclusion of his general audience this past Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI recalled that February 2nd was also World Day of Consecrated Life, saying:

“To your prayers I entrust those who, having made vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, strive after sanctity in the service of children, young people, the sick, the elderly and the lonely. We are grateful to them for their prayers and for the work they do in parishes, hospitals, care homes, and schools. Their service represents a particularly precious gift for the Church. My heartfelt blessings go to all those who live in accordance with the evangelical counsels.”

World Day of Consecrated Life will be celebrated this weekend in the United States.

For a summary of the Pope’s comments on consecrated life later that evening, click here.

Courtesy of Vatican Information Service.

Nun Run ’11

I just received this invitation from the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Arizona. This is a worthy cause and hey, if you don’t live too far from Tempe, consider joining the fun!

Dear friends,

March 12th  is our 2nd Annual Nun Run!  It is hard to believe all that the Lord has accomplished since our 1st Annual Nun Run last year!  May He be praised!  In October 2010, we moved to Tonopah, and in May 2011 the new Chapel will be consecrated! 

The funds raised from NUN RUN 2011 will go into our Monastery Building Fund, which will be used to build our new cloistered monastery that will house 28 nuns!  So how can you be a part of turning this dream into a reality?

(1)  Please donate at  my newly created fundraising page.  The competition is on to see which Sister will raise the most funds for the cause!  (All in sisterly love, of course!)

(2)  Register to participate in the Nun Run.  You can join in the fun on March 12th in Tempe, AZ…or as a shadow participant you can run wherever you are.  Simply register as a shadow participant and a race shirt will be mailed to you!

(3)  Become a Nun Run Fundraiser.  This year we have an awesome incentive prize: All fundraisers who raise $150 or more will receive a beautiful fleece blanket with the Nun Run emblem embroidered on it.  Also, largest in-state fundraiser will win “Dinner With the Nuns” at Serranos Mexican Restaurant.  Largest out-of-state fundraiser will receive a nun-made Souvenir Gift Basket!  The race is on . . .

Thank you, in advance, for however you are able to participate in Nun Run 2011!  Above all, please keep this event’s success in your prayers.

With a promise of prayers in return,

Sr. Mary Fidelis

World Day for Consecrated Life 2011

Today the Church is celebrating the World Day for Consecrated Life simultaneously with the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. Pope Benedict XVI is observing the two celebrations by presiding over Vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica this evening.

The World Day for Consecrated Life will be celebrated in U.S. parishes this weekend. This would be an apt occasion to walk up to a religious after Mass to say hello and to thank them for their service to the Church.

The World Day was inaugurated in 1997 by Pope John Paul II as an initiative for the entire Christian community to celebrate the mission of the consecrated life in the present and the future of the Church.
The Holy Father founded it for three reasons:

(1) to praise the Lord more solemnly and give thanks to Him for the gift of the consecrated life,

(2) to promote knowledge of and esteem for the consecrated life by the entire People of God, and

(3) to give consecrated persons an opportunity to return to the sources of their vocation.

It is no accident that the event coincides with the celebration of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple.  This celebration, wrote Venerable John Paul II, is an “eloquent icon of the total offering of one’s life for all those who are called to show forth in the Church and in the world, by means of the evangelical counsels ‘the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one.’ ”

At its inception as a World Day in 1997, the Pope entrusted it to the Virgin Mary in the hope that it will “bear abundant fruits for the holiness and the mission of the Church” and heighten the esteem in the Christian community for consecrated vocations. 

The Feast and World Day will be celebrated by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday evening with Vespers at the Basilica of St. Peter’s in the Vatican City.  A special invitation is made every year to members of the Institutes for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

New Norbertine Community

Norbertine Sisters of the Bethlehem Priory in Tehachapi

The late Most Rev. John Steinbock, in one of his final acts as Bishop of Fresno, approved the foundation of the Norbertine Sisters of the Bethlehem Priory in Tehachapi.

The cloistered sisters, who now are 20 in number, began in 1996 as a group of lay women who wanted to become Norbertine canonesses. This past Saturday, they were officially erected as a part of the worldwide Norbertine family.

They rented a house in Portola Hills across from the abbey, and began living an apostolic life of prayer together. In 1998, the five original members received their habit in St. Michael’s Abbey church and moved to a temporary house–the former convent at the parish of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Santa Ana, where they were warmly welcomed.

After a piece of land was procured for them in Tehachapi, a group of helpers, both Norbertine and lay, helped prepare the housing on the new property, situated in the low Sierra–a stunning setting. The sisters grew rapidly in this secluded site, living a cloistered life of prayer and manual labor.

Nine of the twenty made solemn vows in the Cathedral of St. John on Saturday. The Norbertine Abbot General, Thomas Handgretinger, was on hand from Rome to officiate at the Mass, and the sisters gave their vows to Fr. Eugene Hayes, Abbot of St. Michael’s and founding prelate.

What a great day for the Catholic Church in California and for the Norbertines throughout the world!

Fit for Eternal Life?

Jack LaLanne

Yesterday fitness guru Jack LaLanne died at the age of 96 in California. He committed himself to healthy living early in life, and he persevered in that lifestyle until the day he died.

LaLanne hosted the longest running fitness show in television history, and he skillfully developed and marketed a range of products, from health foods and juice machines to exercise books and fitness spas.

Of course what most people remember are his incredible feats of strength, which seemed part Schwarzenegger and part Houdini. The guy once did well over 1,000 pushups in 23 minutes.

At the age of 60, LaLanne swam from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf, while handcuffed, shackled and towing a boat!

But why all this talk about Jack LaLanne on a blog about vocations?  It’s because LaLanne knew what it meant to have a “plan of life.” He had one, and he stuck to it to a remarkable degree. Even more, he received the natural benefits of his orderly, disciplined life, as he enjoyed a long, healthy life on this earth.

Yet, even LaLanne’s earthly life had to come to an end, and we pray that he may now rest in peace.

We may be working on a LaLanne-like (say that five times fast) “plan of life” as we feebly try to lose a few pounds and get in shape in fulfillment of our New Year’s resolutions.

But even more, how is our “plan of life” from a spiritual perspective? How is our life ordered? Are our priorities straight? Is prayer, family, work, and recreation balanced appropriately? Am I reading books or viewing programs of a spiritual or at least edifying nature? Do I receive guidance from my pastor, spiritual advisor, or perhaps trusted friends?

Am I as committed to my spiritual plan of life as LaLanne was to his dietary and exercise regimen?

Jack LaLanne once said that we wouldn’t give our dog a cigarette and donut for breakfast, so why should these harmful things be part of our daily routine? Similarly, if we know certain activities aren’t good for us spiritually (and that’s what matters most, after all!), why do we allow them to become part of our lives?

I was that chubby kid in front of the TV trying to do the various exercises that Jack LaLanne was teaching his viewers. I’m sure it wasn’t pretty, but he did help instill an appreciation for exercise that has been integrated into my adult life.

May we who are committed to the Lord and His Church encourage others to do their “spiritual exercises” and to develop a plan of life, so that all that we do is ordered to our ultimate Good.