Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Where have they all gone?

A chance meeting with a religious priest friend of mine spurs this entry. He's making a valiant effort at providing a 'safe' place for religious vocations within his own order. Some time ago I wrote about the fears that I had for diocesan seminarians as they started their training and formation. (see here). I was very edified by the offers of prayer and material help that were offered. Anyhow, kicking off from my earlier musings, we discussed what the really situation for young men and women wanting to try their vocation at the moment. Specifically those called to a house that sings a full office and has some sort of regular community life intact. This covers a wide range of possibilities in Britain. We could only find one, for women, where the daily 'conventual' Mass would be offered in the traditional rite. I thought we would be luckier with the men but, no, we couldn't think of one where the daily offering matched this.

I've kept a mental tally over the last twenty years of where the vocations I've known about have ended up. To take one year, about eight years ago, I thought back and remembered four people, three young men and a woman, who I met on their way to various noviciates. One man entered a British noviciate, the other two men and the woman went to noviciates on the Continent. As far as I know they are all in situ. Then I looked through my diary for a trip I made to the USA about four years ago. One of the things that struck me was the British presence in the religious houses I visited. In one rather well known conservative and enclosed women's community there were about a dozen all told. In a men's community, apostolic and urban, there were eight. So why the vocations 'bleed' out of Britain when it comes to religious?

Well the first factor must be two fold; (a) the men's communities, haven't hit the real crisis point yet and (b) many of the women's communities have resigned themselves to non existence within the next decade. This doesn't particularly worry me. About 90% of active apostolate communities founded since 1600 have disappeared for very good reasons.

The second factor is this. British religious life maintained, generally, a conservative appearance. Habits and customs, even Latin Vespers, were held on to here much longer and have indeed had a bit of a renaissance in the last decade. Dissent against the teaching of the Church tended to be internally rather than externally manifested  in comparison to other places in the world. The external appearance of normality rather concealed the rot within. The common situation at the moment is that there are vocations at the younger end of many communities and there are those trying their vocations; they are very brave. The modernist gerontocracy still largely holds the balance of power in many houses and the lives of the younger brethren are not easy. One house I know had quite a rush of vocations over a decade however a 'war of attrition' against the newcomers dispatched almost all of them to safer fields. For those not willing to submit themselves to the 'will of the moment' , to endure subtle dissent from the Catholic faith,  the only answer is to decamp somewhere 'safe'.

Religious communities are knocking on the doors of Britain still but the ones that are prepared to found in these islands are exclusively either 'neo-con' or traditional. They don't seem to be getting a warm welcome. This is largely because the existing major superiors are dead scared of what might happen to their own vocation pools if there was a viable option. It's dressed up in other conservative sounding language of course. Local panels 'advising' the bishops are also reticent. Generally counselling against the presence of  new institutes they manage to give their reasons with a wealth of subtext which reads 'No Conservatives Welcome Here' to the trained ear. The 'traditionalist' movement has not always helped. Often preconceptions of what traditional religious life should be has been tightly informed more  by the detailed  reading of Gothic novels and antique picture books rather  than hard cold historical reality.

Until at least a couple of 'safe' places are established for men and women the vocation bleed will continue.  Perhaps with the Psalmist we should pray; Attolite portas, principes vestras:  et elevamini, portae aeternales: et introibit rex gloriae!

Apology; Since writing this it's occurred to me that I'd totally forgotten the Transalpine Redemptorists. My sincere apologies.


  1. "The external appearance of normality rather concealed the rot within."


    And indeed to most of your post. :(

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  3. The above was an error on my part.

    I must apologise for forgetting to mention the Transalpine Redemptorists. The original draft only covered England. It was careless. Mea culpa!


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