Friday, February 1, 2008

The few, the proud, the faithful...

Diogenes writes on the plight of the occasional religious sister in habit within a religious order which has been deeply affected by questionable changes in attitude on religious life. I have always known that even in the most disoriented of communities, there likely exists some pious souls, either in habit, or pushed inhumanely out of it by taking advantage of their humble obedience.

From the time I made my confirmation, I knew I wanted to enter religious life. However, the only sisters I knew until I was around 16 were not from traditional communities. It was not for me.  Unknown to me at the time, was that those interior desires I had for things like traditional community, devotions, orthodoxy in catechism, were at odds with their ideals. There was a sometimes not-so-subtle manner of challenging church teachings, rather than taking the time to learn about them, and humbly following them. The Blessed Mother was viewed with disdain at the worst, and with indifference at best. Of course, one can't appreciate Our Lady without understanding first, her simplicity, humility, and obedience.

Lo and behold, when I was 16 or so, I met some Croatian Franciscan sisters in Chicago and in Windsor, who wore the long traditional habit. The habit, even in 1980, most likely represented some orthodoxy to my mind. I was in a Croatian ethnic parish here in metro Detroit which, at the time was called St. Jerome's. I approached my pastor and asked how I could join this community, which was based overseas. In November of 1980, just months after graduating from high school, I had a one-way ticket which would ultimately lead me to Bijelo Polje to the Mostar Province of the School Sisters of St. Francis of Christ the King. I had to return to secular life in the states after being sidelined by illness.

As an aside, it was less than a year later that the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje began in my own backyard, and it was my community which served the parish of St. James. While I acknowledge the many conversions, and even witnessed them, if you have read my blog for any length of time, you will know that I have serious reservations about the authenticity of those apparitions. I base that not on the positive fruits seen in many of the devout and humble followers. Rather, it is strictly because of some legitimate, negative fruits of seers and associates documented at the diocese (disobedience, deception, defiance and defamation of authority, etc.) . However, I have no doubt that Mary is using the place to bring souls closer to Christ through radical conversions, and to hear the call to serve God through various vocations. I believe it played a role in the resurgance of Marian and Eucharistic devotion, along with frequent confession and mortification - all things which bring people graces, even where there is no apparition (like in your own parish, if you have these things).

Those communities which do take this approach are bursting at the seams, and in some cases, unable to handle the numbers of people wanting to enter. Those communities who treat the Eucharist and Blessed Mother with indifference or disdain and blow-off the need for confession and mortification are dying out. One only needs to see the numbers of postulants and novices at more traditional orders in contrast to those which grew to prominence in the last 40 years. The latter is getting gray, the former have large numbers at a young median age. Here is a look at a video made within the last year on a nearby community in Ann Arbor, Michigan - Mary, Mother of the Eucharist Dominicans.

This is not to say that every religious sister in secular clothing is somehow not faithful or not devoted to Mary, the Eucharist and traditional virtue building. This would be stereotyping and we have to be careful. In fact, I've met sisters in secular clothing who are quite devout and faithful, as well as highly virtuous and hardworking, especially with the elderly, the sick, and the poor. Conversely, I've seen cases of sisters in habit who had strange ideas about Catholic religious life (and new age ideals). There are some communities which have permitted its members to follow "all sorts of strange teachings". It's in these communities where a pious, devout and obedient soul - in habit, or not, can truly suffer.

Pray for vocations. And, support solid seminaries, religious orders, and institutes with funds to house and school all that step forward. Thank God for those steadfast sisters who suffer in ways unknown to us in religious communities which have strayed from their rule in favor of comfort, easy religion, and indifference to the Eucharist, to Mary, to the sacrament of penance, and ways of mortification and sacrifice. Their suffering is not in vain. In fact, their prayers and sacrifices may be fueling this resurgance.

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