The Catholic Thing
People in the Consecrated Life on the Way Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 26 January 2014

Since Jesus called himself the Way to God, those men and women in Consecrated Life, that is those committed by vows or promises to “the evangelical counsels of chastity dedicated to God, poverty and obedience are based upon the words and examples of the Lord” are on the Way through this commitment.

Now, as I have said in other columns here, Catholicism is a Way rather than a collection of religious fascinations that take up our time and treasure, occupy our minds, and twist our morals. For those in consecrated life, these fascinations might be cronyism, forming cliques, spending money, or buying crystal, or flying around the world, or watching television. The list is endless – and seductive.

Once we get sucked into anything that takes up our time and pollutes our minds then we lose both time that could better be devoted to Christ and the quality of life needed to stay on the Way. For two millennia, people in the vowed life have had to confront the extraordinary pressures to conform to the Spirit of this world.

Early monks fled the cities and lived in the desert. Benedict of Nursia took his monks to isolated places where they could pray and work. Contemplatives went into the cloister where they could face the terrible loving God in silence. Those in secular institutes set aside fixed time for prayer away from their professional lives.

Benedict XVI taught that the Consecrated Life is: “A life devoted to following Christ in his chastity, poverty and obedience [that] thus becomes ‘a living exegesis of God’s word’.” Seeing a Religious, one should see the Gospel being unpacked before our very eyes in the ordinary events of life.

This person is living as Christ lives. The pagan West after the Enlightenment transposed this concept into an ideal that effectively meant that it became irrelevant for all practical purposes. It was rendered “impossible.”

Historically, consecrated life has given rise to several waves of professionalizing a vocation – anything to escape the demands of being on the Way all the time. Some religious become government officials, others disappear into the big institutions. Still others become teachers, doctors, nurses.

Certainly none of this is a problem – until the profession takes over and the consecrated life takes second place. Perhaps today’s secular institutes might teach the older orders how to avoid disappearing into their professions.

The consecrated life is not individual as the modern West understands the word. The West is fascinated with isolation, an isolation tied to solipsism. Western culture is obsessed with each person living his or her  own truth – whatever that means. “Following your heart” is something that Adolf Hitler did, for example. So there has to be something more to it.

Instead, the man or woman in consecrated life is part of a community, a communion of prayer, sharing, truth and love. The community is larger than the individual and moves the individual to transcend herself/himself.

Further, the community of consecrated life only exists by participating in the larger community of the Church. Otherwise it is simply a men’s or a women’s club. The larger community is gifted to make the necessary judgments about founders and charisms. The smaller is not.

The relation between the community of consecrated life and the larger Church community crucially keeps the smaller community open to the grace and truth of Christ as they are presented in the Church. Conversely, the integrity of the smaller community manifests the integrity of the Church in some local area.

The Western idea of community-as-utility where one is tax-exempt, gets food when one needs it, and health insurance, is not the community of persons growing together as Benedict had in mind – an  idea that the Church seeks to foster everywhere possible.

An individual in the consecrated life is called to an integrated life, which means following Christ the Way rather than following a bunch of religions. Thus the individual stands out against the pagan cultural background. The integrity of the consecrated one is “at the very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission, since it 'manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling' and the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse.” (John Paul II)

So religious or those in the consecrated life are not an accidental part of the Church. They model for clergy and laity alike the complete following of Christ. They also make present the extraordinary charisms of Saint Benedict, Saint Clare, or whichever saints founded their communities. We need all of these charisms to appreciate the grandeur of the Divine Son. The communion of saints in Heaven thereby has its counterparts on earth.

A last, wise word from Benedict XVI: “I would like to renew the invitation to consecrated persons to look to the future with confidence, relying on the fidelity of God and the power of his grace, who is always able to accomplish new wonders: ‘You have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished! Look to the future, where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things.’"

Fr. Bevil Bramwell, OMI PhD is the former Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. His books are Laity: Beautiful, Good and True and The World of the Sacraments. 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (8)Add Comment
written by DS, January 26, 2014
Great way to begin a Sunday. Thank you.
written by Chris in Maryland, January 26, 2014
Thank you Father Bramwell.

How different from "this-age-in-the West" where the call is to "self-actualize."

Thus we have an entire education machine, including our own "Catholic" grammar schools, high schools and colleges, programmed for individuals to "actualize' themselves, disintegrating knowledge, family and community as we venture on our separate ways in the "journey" toward "the self."
written by JRF, January 26, 2014
Random thoughts! " Following your heart is something Adolf Hitler did.." Put another way, Hitler, like many followed his conscience. As Benedict xvi reminded us in his paper on conscience, conscience is not to determine truth, but to decide, when truth has been promulgated, whether I will follow it or not. Obviously, if we are justified in determining truth by our conscience there is no need for a hell.
Fr. Bramwell's article, it is not just for the consecrated religious. I am in a consecrated, sacramental vocation called marriage. I think his comments are a prescription for all married couples to find the joy of marriage.
written by Bridget, January 26, 2014
@JRF: Hitler followed his conscience? Hardly. Conscience is the faculty with which one may recognize truth, whether promulgated or not. To disregard the recognition is not to follow it.
And I think perhaps you degrade the meaning of "consecrated." Marriage primarily entails committment to another human being, whereas a consecrated life entails a formal committment to God to the exclusion of other formal committments. Or so I think.
written by Jack,CT, January 26, 2014
I wish i understood the purpose
of signalling out those of us in the
"Medical" field?

Many of us in Medicine have "Balance"
and after all we at the bedside are
doing the lords work.
God Bless and thx for a great piece!
written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, January 28, 2014
Just a few comments: there is a little confusion over the meaning of "conscience". As the Catechism says: "the education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences."(CCC 1783)
Jack I don't see where the "medical" field got into the discussion. But yes people in every profession can see their faith be expressed in their work.
written by Brian, January 28, 2014
Fr. Bramwell;

Thank you Father for your post. It has added to my better understanding of the consecrated life. I was solemnly consecrated a hermit in my diocese on October 6 of last year and it has been a steep learning curve since then. My life, for the time being, is more about the experience of the life God chose for me rather than "knowing". Grace nd Peace; Brian.
written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, January 29, 2014
Warmest congratulations Brian! Pray for this country. God bless.

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