By Sarah Mac Donald - 04 February, 2020
On World Day of Consecrated Life, bishops urge religious not to wear themselves out ensuring the survival of structures inherited from previous centuries which no longer correspond to life today.
Consecrated life is not about “battening down the hatches until the current storms pass” or simply ‘survival’, Bishop Dermot Farrell told Religious in the Diocese of Ossory gathered in St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny on World Day of Consecrated Life.
Though they were living in times that could be very disheartening, he said they are called to live out their baptismal calling and he urged them to be “bold and creative” in rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelisation in their respective communities.
In his homily, Bishop Farrell suggested that rather than wearing themselves out ensuring the survival of structures inherited from previous centuries which no longer correspond to life today, their way of life must inspire younger generations.
“The crises in the Church today have little to do with numbers. It is a crisis of faith,” he stated.
Dr Farrell, a former president of Maynooth, warned that thinking only of survival robs consecrated life of vitality and life and a positive forward-looking mindset.
“Disengagement, despondency and a negative approach to your way of life robs your charisms of power and of their original creative force. Joy, one of the fruits of the Spirit, is a root characteristic of your consecrated life. However, it takes both wisdom and courage to discern the true joy of the gospel in our communities and in the Church.”
He underlined that it was part of the responsibility of those in leadership to lead others to the recognition of those things which will not pass away.
The Church must respond to today’s challenges but rather than being focused shortsightedly on the glory of the past, and “the magnificent institutions which our sisters and brothers before us built – old wineskins, to use the Lord’s phrase – we need to accept the responsibility of mission as we experience it now.”
The Bishop said that pastoral ministry “in a missionary key” seeks to abandon the “barren rhetoric that says, ‘We have always done it this way.’”
World Day for Consecrated Life is a day which the global Church seeks to support religious women and men in their calling to radical discipleship to be a light for the world.
In an era of instant change, where only the extraordinary seems worthy of note, there is a huge need for the witness of the reality of discipleship, the Bishop of Ossory suggested.
Failure of Religious to give themselves to their Congregation or Order reduced a community to a group of independent individuals who cooperate when it suits them, he highlighted.
Elsewhere in his homily, he said that given the current age profile of members of Religious Congregations and Orders, and the diocesan clergy, with no young priests or religious, nor any prospect of an influx of vocations, he said he could foresee a situation in which “our way of life could, for all intents and purposes, within a generation or two have disappeared from the landscape in Ossory, if very radical action in not taken now.”
“Our Lord is the Lord of risk. Bold decisions must be taken today, even if it is painful to do so, and we risk making the wrong decision. Otherwise we die of irrelevancy,” Bishop Farrell warned.
He added, “When we look at the present shortcomings of structure and function within the Church then, like Jesus, we need a bold creative response rather than fleeing from the reality of the distressful present.”
In Dublin on Sunday, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin told the congregation of Religious gathered in the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in Foxrock “we err when we think that numerical strength is the measurement of the significance of consecrated life at any moment”.
Archbishop Martin said the strength of religious life depends on the manner and the vitality with which consecrated men or men respond to their call and how they become effective witnesses to the transcendent and loving God, in a society where more and more people no longer know where to seek or to find God.
Reiterating that the true witness of consecrated life does not depend on numbers nor on the age of its members, he stressed, “The strength of consecrated life lies in faithful witness.”
He highlighted that numerical strength can lead to an unhealthy institutionalisation, whereby the creativity and freedom which the charism entails are numbed and “institution and conformity enter centre stage”.
Archbishop Martin said religious life that has a new vitality and creativity is needed and he admitted that he was critical of the aspects of religious life in the past such as the conformity that was imposed in novitiates and seminaries.
“Consecrated life must be lived authentically. It must also speak. It must say something to others even in the secularised society around us.”
He told them that they are “called to be beacons of light who proclaim the constant presence of the new light of Christ in our ever-changing world”.
“At moments of darkness and turbulence, even a small light is a sign that we are moving out of darkness into light. The dedicated Religious can be the lifeline of hope for many who are lost and troubled in the storm and darkness of our world. Light is a reminder that hope is still possible in the darkness of distress.”
However, many Religious may be tempted to feel that they are the ones in darkness, in the darkness of the aggressive hostility of a secularised world. Others are insecure and disheartened by the darkness that had found its way into religious life itself and had led to abuse and disillusionment.
“The worst thing that can occur is that Religious decide that they are just victims and that there is nothing to do but retreat into a safe secure worldaway from the real world,” Dr Martin warned.
“The real world needs consecrated life, but committed, authentic and enthusiastic consecrated life. Do not be afraid. Fear can paralyse. Fear can really be cowardice,” he said.