Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 15, 1999
A radical call
Religious life provides challenge to society
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
By their very lives, men and women in religious orders provide both a challenge and a witness to society.
A life committed to poverty, chastity and obedience is a clear challenge to a society which embraces materialism, sexual freedom and self-determination.
It is also a powerful witness in both a symbolic and a practical way, according to Franciscan Brother Gerry Clyne.
To the faithful, Clyne says, the life of a religious reflects a radical dependence on God, and an openness to the perfect will of God.
At the same time, people outside the Church are drawn to the values of simplicity and living in community, "particularly young people who are looking for something beyond materialism," Clyne says.
On a practical level, he adds, those who take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are freed from other obligations to dedicate themselves to serving the Church and society.
The call to religious life, he says, is a natural human response to God which has its roots in Scripture.
"If you look at the development of religious life, . . . you would see that originally there were people who were living the evangelical counsels before they were codified into vows. It's a natural response of people to give their lives to God."
For Sister Germaine Chalifoux, vocation formation director for the Sisters of Providence in western Canada, religious life means being "a visible sign of providence, which means God's loving care for all creation.
"I must be the face of providence, through what I say and the joy I express; the hands and feet of providence through service and reaching out to people in compassion; and the heart of providence by being present to people and showing God's love, warmth and care to people."
Chalifoux says for her, the commitment to a religious life is a rational one.
"Jesus is the raison d'etre of my existence, and how Jesus is calling me to follow him is through this particular state of life."
Chalifoux believes different lifestyles strengthen the Church by reflecting different dimensions of God's love. For example, married couples manifest a special unique love for each other and for their children, while religious manifest the universality of God's love.
"When you put them together, you get a broader and clearer picture of the infinite scope of God's love," she says.
Clyne says that whatever one's call in life, we are all called through Baptism to the same commitments as men and women in religious life.
"We are a symbol of the commitment all faithful should have, only in the extreme," he says. "All Christians are called to live simply and not get caught up in material things - the extreme of that is a vow of poverty.
All Christians are called to chastity - the extreme of that is a vow of celibacy. And we are all called to be open to the will of God - the extreme of that is a vow of obedience."
His view is echoed by Sister Teresita Kambeitz, an Ursuline Sister of Prelate, who says that whatever the call, "it is a way to live out one's Baptism, in which we are called to share in the mission of Jesus.
"What I'm living out is a visible sign of what all are called to live out in their various states of life."
Kambeitz says religious are called to be "a prophetic voice in the Church."
"By my vows, I am saying I am in solidarity with and support people who are poor, chaste and obedient by circumstance and not by choice."
Both Kambeitz and Chalifoux see the increasing role of laypeople in the Church as part of the reason fewer women may be interested in a religious vocation.
"There are so many more options now for people to serve," says Chalifoux.
For example, women who are attracted to a life of prayer and service may find that lifestyle somewhere like the L'Arche community, without having to be part of a religious congregation.
"Religious life is sometimes looked on as a nebulous thing . . . people are almost afraid to ask about it and find out about it because it's like signing on the dotted line, like they will be dragged into a commitment."
Kambeitz says there may in fact be fewer people called to religious life because the Church is in a transition stage, focusing on the role of the laity. But she adds "there will always be those called to a religious life.
"God is calling all of us to build a reign of peace and justice - the kingdom of God. Religious life is God choosing certain people to be signs, to point to something beyond itself."
She adds that being a member of a religious community helps a person transcend their weaknesses. "The strength I get from being part of a group bonded by a common experience of Christ enables me to be and do things I could not do on my own."
For those trying to discern whether they have a call to religious life, Clyne advises prayer, along with some practical questions.
"If you're living in the general will of God, then ask yourself: what do you want to do? Do you have this desire?
"God always takes into account our maturity. If he has other plans for you, he will let you know by opening and closing doors.
"If you're open to being directed, God will direct you. But you have to be the one to start moving."