Thursday, August 23, 2012

Two Men and a Sewing Machine Do Not A Religious Order Make...

Religious orders have a colorful history in the ISM. Many characters of the movement have not done much to help this perception. The joke is that whatever habit a man or woman looks best in will be the religious order of choice. I don't think that is necessarily fair, as there are many instances of wonderful orders.

Don't get me wrong--there is a lot of humor in ISM religious orders. This is especially true when Roman orders are recreated in the ISM that were founded on principles like a vow of obedience to the Pope, propagation of the Roman Catholic faith, etc. We also must be careful not to use a very specific name when not Roman Catholic, lest the Romans think that we are infringing on their rights. It is perfectly ok to claim the charism of a saint but have a different name. Obviously with ecumenical Benedictines, Franciscans, etc. this is moot for those groups.

But, there are many sincere people who want to devote themselves to following he lifestyle and charism of a certain saintly prophet. Or, they want to devote themselves totally to a calling. These can be very powerful instruments in the ISM. Where we are sometimes subject to domineering prelates, religious orders provide a breath of fresh air. They are inherently much more organic than formalized church structures. They also afford the opportunity for individuals to have a greater source of community.

In many ways, I think that religious orders could be the wave of the future on the ISM. That is, even if they are not defined as religious orders in themselves. Generation Y and beyond are increasingly very anti-institutional in their faith journey. A religious order could offer a modicum of structure while still being non-threatening enough to the neophytes. They would cross jurisdictional boundaries and allow individuals to worship in their own community of choice while belonging to an "alternative" group.

I think the ISM has a challenge towards greater unity of religious orders. It seems impractical to join all religious orders of a same tradition, i.e. Franciscan, across jurisdictions and theologies. However, greater unity can certainly be achieved. Perhaps orders can form a collaborative agreement to support each other on their journey. Or, maybe commit to a common place for their respective yearly chapters but use down time to mingle together. This would provide a wonderful opportunity for fellowship.

I also think jurisdictions which contain religious orders can challenge their members to greater formation. This isn't a formal process necessarily, but it could be an introspective way to conform to the charism of a certain tradition.

Maybe the group realized that they need to encourage more study of their founder. It is somewhat unfair to claim a certain character and then pray/act/etc nothing like that tradition. Perhaps an order then becomes "in the spirit of St. Brumhilde," or whomever they choose. Maybe they realize they don't like him or her at all! Or, if a new order, they realize that they need a mission statement and some common purpose. Or, perhaps I am putting on my non-profit director hat!

I think, too, that we have to be careful not to mock start up orders. St. Benedict was once the only Benedictine, and similarly with St. Francis before Lord Bernard. If the individual is bearing good fruit, God will give them brothers and/or sisters. If they just want to wear a habit, at least we can encourage them to get to know the founder. Maybe they will be more devoted than most.

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