03 November 2010

Question on Whether the Truth is Demeaning

[[Dear Sister Laurel, pardon me but isn't it demeaning to the HIOL to insist they were lay rather than religious? Since they had made vows hadn't they accepted the same life as religious men and women?]]

Thanks for your questions. I suspect a lot of people are asking (or have definitely asked me already) something similar. Thus, though I think I have answered all of this at least indirectly let me give it an explicit but relatively brief shot. Regarding being demeaning my answer must be no. Is it demeaning to be a member of the lay state? Clearly not. Is it demeaning to live a life outlined in the Acts of the Apostles, for instance, with values which apply to every Christian? Again, of course not. Is it demeaning to be honest about where one has been called by God to this point in time? Emphatically not. Neither is it at all demeaning to affirm clearly that the discipleship of the former HIOL led them to make private vows as specifications of their baptism, or that is caused them to ASPIRE to existence as an institute of consecrated life and to enter into a long and risky period of mutual discernment with the Church while they ministered in unique and committed ways.

On the other hand, it would be demeaning to the Church as a whole to fail to be clear that the HIOL had not yet become an institute of consecrated life, nor had its members been admitted to the consecrated state or to all of the rights and obligations which attach to religious life and that state. It would be unjust to allow people to continue to believe that the use of habits and titles were not merely "on loan" against the day that would all happen. For that matter, it would be unjust to allow the Church at large to believe there are canonical religious congregations that are mixed (that is, are communities which, despite vows of consecrated celibacy, do not have distinct communities of men and women) or allow children to wear the garb of professed religious, or who perhaps undervalue the Sacrament of marriage in the process of esteeming religious life TOO highly.

Regarding your second question, the answer is again, "no". I would ask you to refer to the last post I put up on the use of the term "vowed" which I think outlines the very large difference between the life of the religious and that of the former HIOL. While it is true there are superficial similarities (and more than usual), and while it is also true that the HIOL were allowed to approximate the life of the religious until one does all the things religious women and men do in making public profession (and until God "does TO them" all the things God does during the rite of public profession in consecrating them) living as if one is a religious is still not the same as BEING a religious.

Of course it is wrenching to lose the sense of approaching what what yearns for and has a personal certainty that this is what God is calling one to. It is painful in the extreme to have to realize the gap which remained between what one was and what one meant to be. The HIOL were in something of an in-between position here: lay persons seriously discerning WITH THE LARGER CHURCH a vocation to consecrated life and given reason to hope and believe one day they would be admitted to this and their charism affirmed publicly. It is tremendously confusing and challenging to one's own sense of God's presence in one's life to have to begin afresh one's discernment regarding what specifically God is calling one to because a MUTUAL conclusion was not reached. But this is the risk of entering into discernment with regard to an ecclesial vocation. It is the same essential dynamic that occurs when an individual says to a diocese, "I have a call to ordained life and ministry" and the diocese discerns --- perhaps after years in seminary formation --- that the person is at the very least not called to embrace this life with them at this time. When all of this is accompanied by a failure of leadership and a split and internal conflict in the original group the pain is underscored and amplified. But, the truth remains the truth and it is not demeaning to clarify that.