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24.05.2019 15:27:24 396x read.
ARTICLES
CONSECRATED LIFE IN ASIA TODAY.

CONSECRATED LIFE IN ASIA TODAY

A presentation by Sr.Inigo in the ‘Religious Life Week – YCL-2015 at ICLA, Manila, Philippines.

Two sides of the coin

When I think of Consecrated life from Asian perspective, I see two kinds of pictures or two sides of the same coin. At least a few countries in Asia have still been blessed with plenty of vocations to religious life. In spite of ultra-modernity and scientific progress, young men and women, full of zeal and enthusiasm, come forward to dedicate their lives to serve the poor and the marginalized of our society. Though the idea that religious life is set apart or higher than married life is no longer widespread, it is admirable to note that the Christian families at least in some parts of India still consider their children responding to the call of the Lord as a blessing and privilege and encourage them to commit themselves to this life. As a result we are almost 125,000 religious in India today.

The other side of the picture is also true in Asia. Such an outlook has changed radically in some parts of our countries; many parents do not necessarily speak on this, or encourage children to such a form of life. When children are offered options for the future, very few mention the religious/priestly life. There is also a growing anti-clericalism and anti-religious feeling among many Christians, especially the youth. The social attitudes have changed and ‘vocations’ are fewer. There is also one simple fact: in many places there are fewer children today than in the past.

The focus of our Life:

In the bygone days, we were looked upon as truly men and women of and for God and they had radiated certain amount of holiness. Today many are caught up with schools, administration of hospitals and other social works. They may find too little time to move away from their offices and present themselves before the Lord so that they might bear witness. Earlier, we would often witness Priests and nuns spending hours in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord and praying with and for the people. A Hindu Guru once said: “If you want to touch the hearts of Indians, every one of you must become a Guru. A Guru is one who has deep God-experience. Such a Guru does not quote, does not instruct and does not dogmatize. The Guru shares personal experience of God. It is not just presenting Jesus Christ as the Guru; every religious needs to become a Guru – deep in the experience of God”.

The Spirit-filled and Spirit-led Apostles began their mission with surprisingly great success: personal witness to a personal experience of God. Unfortunately even in Asia, the scenario changed. When wealth and power and authority increased, the need to rely on the power of the Spirit decreased. If we rely on competency and human efficiency alone, then we are facing a crisis in our life. There is an urgent need to change this image. We are not asking today “What will be the future of religious life” but our question is “What kind of Consecrated Life we want in the future”.

Our God is a missionary God. To Him every call is addressed in view of a Mission, a service. Every human vocation is God’s answer to the cry of a person. Nobody is called because of personal talents and goodness. We are called because someone cries out to God and God seeks, through a vocation, to respond to this cry. Hence every time he says: “Let my people go” – Ex: 3: 7; 5:1; 7:16, 26; 9:1, 13; 10:3. The call from the poor and the needy is the Biblical pattern. God calls Moses because he has heard the cry of His people in Egypt. Moses received his call when he saw a fellow Jew being ill-treated by an Egyptian (Ex: 2: 11-12); judges and the Prophets heard their call when their people were in some form of trouble and suffering and needed help. Jesus Himself would begin His mission with the “Good News” to the poor.

What do we need today?

Today we are talking about re-vitalization, re-charging, re-energizing, renewing, re-casting, re-founding, re-evangelizing, re-visiting, re-structuring and re-imaging consecrated life, re-looking into important aspects like spirituality, contemplation, renunciation, etc., and re-visioning our mission, formation and life-style, and moving beyond. What has been relevant for one epoch seems to be no more meaningful and relevant. Everything seems to be outdated and meaningless.

The Vatican II Document Perfectae Caritatis mandated the Religious Congregations to, “a constant return to the sources of their foundations and to adapt themselves to the changing signs of our times”. This is followed by the SYNOD in Rome on “Vita Consecrata”, AMOR meeting in Thailand on the theme “Called to move beyond”, the Call of UISG on the theme “Mysticism and prophecy”, Theological Seminar on Consecrated Life in 2012 and the “Year of Consecrated Life” from Nov-2014 to Feb-2016 declared by Holy Father Francis invite us to reflect once again seriously on the meaning and purpose of religious life and to change our old mindset, thought-pattern and ideology as they are old wine-skins which do not contain the solution for new challenges.

 

Models of Consecrated Life

 

The Catholic Church has experienced many models of consecrated life. The historians call the major models as Monks (Monastic model) who flourished till the 12th century, the Mendicants who flourished till the 16th century and the Missionaries who have been a successful model till the mid-20th century. The missionary model, which in another sense is colonial model, started crumbling 40 years ago. Today the new model is evolving as Messengers of the Kingdom with all its implications. “We are putting into the deep”. From being Monks – Mendicants – Missionaries, today we are invited to be a Message and the Messenger. We begin to realize that there are new roads to walk on, new possibilities to explore, new questions to ask and new strategies to respond with, as people are changing, objectives are different and new needs are emerging. We have to re-define and remodel with openness our very life-style, our ministries, formation and administration to be more relevant to this changing world.

In the words of Pope Francis, “Wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different way of acting, of living! It is possible to live differently in this world. It is this witness I expect from you”! Religious people are men and women who can awaken the world. According to Vatican sources, 13, 123 religious left religious life in 5 years. They did not find fulfilment and joy in their way of life and never thought that they could awaken the world. Absence of spiritual life and loss of a sense of community are the probable causes for this situation. The solution is a renewed attention to the Spirituality. There must be a clear emphasis on the “radical nature of the Gospel,” rather than the “number of members or the maintenance of works.”

Positive Trends in Asian Consecrated Life

1. Looking at the rate of growth of vocations to religious life today in proportion to the small number of Catholics in Asia, one has reasons to be hopeful about the future: There is an increase in the number of International Congregations in our country, especially within the past three decades, as well as local congregations. Of course there seems to be a shift in the source of vocations in India – from South and West to East and the north in India. Here the shift is from Philippines to Vietnam, Indonesia and China.

2. We have responded to the call of Vatican II very enthusiastically and made lots of efforts to contextualize and to radically interpret the Founders’ Charism. This has resulted in greater involvement of their members in social and frontline ministries. In some Congregations, this has put a few religious in a position of conflict with their Congregational leaders and with certain members in the Church and in government. In general, many religious congregations have taken seriously the continuing renewal of their members, investing much time and resources.

3. A new development in the history of Consecrated Life in Asia is the growth in the number of local religious missionaries being sent on mission outside the country to work courageously, irrespective of their language, colour and cultures. There is a tremendous growth in being committed missionaries to other Asian and non-Asian countries.

4. The Church acknowledges in a special way the contributions made by women religious for the growth and renewal of the Church. The recent themes of the meetings of Church-related organizations and the presence of women and the laity as special guests and resource persons are signs that augur well for the future of consecrated life in India. Women are also gaining confidence in their own abilities and they are coming forward to accept responsibilities in the Church. In spite of tensions and oppositions, they begin to re-read, re-conceive and re-construct the way of seeing and interpreting the social realities, theology and mission.

5. Another positive trend is an increasing number of members joining from “minority cultures”, tribes and other groups. It is seen as enrichment to live in multi-culturality, though it poses some major challenges in their ministries, community life, formation and administration.

6. The “new poor” created by Globalization and the recent financial crisis, persons with AIDS/HIV, sex-workers, child abuse, street children, child laborers, refugees, undocumented migrants, prisoners, and the ecological imbalance have certainly affected Consecrated Life in Asia especially for the past three or four decades. This situation has become the signs for many congregations for re-interpreting their Charism and renewing their life in Chapters and renewal sessions. It has given rise to a new Integrated Spirituality, a genuine hunger to search for God in realities – from working for the marginalized through institutions to being with, being evangelized by and working with them. In fact poor are our benefactors!

Challenges

While appreciating the many positive changes in recent years, we cannot deny the fact that there is an erosion of credibility in the way religious life is lived. Absence of a vibrant spirituality can be sensed everywhere. Often the deliberations of General and Provincial chapters which reflect a high degree of radicalism and hard options remain so only on paper for many religious orders. The vast majority are cocooned in comfort zones of security. This has resulted in a lot of cynicism and disillusionment both within and outside religious life. The widespread malaise of individualism, consumerism and careerism has considerably weakened the spirit of commitment and availability among many religious.

1. Cultural Alienation: Consecrated life continues to be of predominantly Western, expressions. It remains very much foreign. It is an imperative need of the hour that Consecrated life needs to be inculturated. Asia is known for its spiritual experiences and wealth. It is unfortunate that Christian consecrated life here has largely ignored the religious traditions of this country. Deeply religious values of this country have not yet become the indigenous expressions of consecrated life for us. Though Vatican II said to go to our roots, still we prefer Western dress and way of life.

2. Community life: Community is for mission. It should be an inspiration and support for the life and mission of the members. The Community is the place where we release our tensions and are energized for our mission. But today community life itself has become a tension. In religious communities, there is often only a business-oriented, I mean, merely functional, relationship. There is rarely a deep, sincere, trusting and intimate relationship among the members but only an apparent cordiality. Over-involvement in work forces the members to avoid sharing in community responsibilities and being accountable to others in the community. We keep ourselves simply busy. Ministry is an excuse not to meet others.
We have given up traditional ways of praying in our communities, but have we also given up prayer altogether? Showing ourselves too busy can be a need for something else. With such obsessions, there is no time in our life for relationships. Jesus, with His entire obsession for Mission, was human, had time to meet friends and participate in meals, relaxed and found time for prayer.

3. The Vow of Poverty has no more meaning and witnessing value in our country. Our buildings with strong compound walls, high raised gates and dogs, with lawns and love birds and fish tanks, the latest cars, the type of medical help sought to, the mode of celebrations etc, are counter witness to the poor man – the Jesus of Nazareth. We are, of course, helping some poor people. But they don’t feel comfortable to approach us and we too find no time to be available to them in their needs. We need to ask for instance, what does voluntary poverty mean when one has been forced to live in poverty all his or her life? What does poverty mean when one has more money or comfort in the religious community than his or her family in the village? What is richness mean? True answer is given by Swami Vivekananda: Richness is not earning more, spending more or saving more. Richness is when we need “No more”.

4. Religious Obedience: The root concept is Ob-Audire (Obedience), which means listening to one’s conscience. It is listening to God who speaks through our times, various events, Chapters etc. We are called to listen to the signs of our complex times and to respond with a new sense of mission. The vow of obedience which is an adult decision to seek and promote the mission of Jesus rather than personal glory is very different from the parent-child relationship some religious communities encourage, where adult relationships and independent thinking are frowned upon. Obedience can be trivialized by being reduced to the question of dependence and permissions, rather than of serious adult responsibility for the world.

Celibacy: It is a Joyful and loving life! It is the vow of Love. In the word of Pope Francis, “A joyless Community is one that is dying out. We, the Consecrated men and women are called to share the joy with mother’s tenderness as facilitators and not as controllers of grace. The Church is not a refuge for sad people, but it is a house of Joy”. We are called to create relationships with nature, God and others in this fragmented and fractured society through the vow of consecrated celibacy. This vow frees us to be available at any time and for any ministry and even to die for others.

5. Piety vs Spirituality: I have no doubt that there is a lot of piety among us but I am not sure whether there is enough spirituality. We are multiplying novenas, vocal prayers and the hours of adorations. We are faithful to a number of external exercises of piety and thereby we are also considered pious and very prayerful. This fidelity may or may not affect the quality of a person’s life. Spirituality has a lot to do with the quality of one’s life. A spiritual person is one who sincerely tries to live by the values of the Gospel. We cannot claim to be truly spiritual if the fruits of the Spirit are not visible in one’s life (Gal.5:22-23).

6. Ministries: Once upon a time we were the owners of schools and hospitals. We were seen as missionaries and not just professionals. But today nobody calls these works as apostolates. They have become money making rackets in some Congregations. Every ministry was a response to the need of the place and the people. As needs are changing, our responses should also change. The existing ministries are to be done in a new way and there are new ministries to liberate the poor politically, economically and culturally.
Excessive institutionalization has sucked out the spirit and vitality of religious life today. Increasingly, security of the institution has removed the basic insecurity demanded by the Gospel. Unfortunately today, the sense of mission is gradually replaced by professionalism and, worse, by careerism and the pursuit of personal ambitions. Today what percentage of religious is burning with zeal for God’s Kingdom?

7. Commitment: Earlier ‘commitment’ meant – a vocation people had voluntarily chosen to live with a difference in religious houses. Today we see extremely committed and extremely generous lay people around us. People do not expect us to be efficient administrators or competent professionals. They want humble, happy and spiritual religious rather than just achievers, specialists or professionals. Our life is no more attractive to our young people. They don’t find challenges and relevance unless we radically revise our life style and ministries.

8. Multi-culturality: More and more, religious find themselves working with various cultural and ethnic groups in their ministries. Mono-culturality usually ensured a common understanding of such things as community, prayer, silence, poverty, chastity, obedience. Indeed, what usually happened was that the formation program of the “mother province” in Europe was largely transported and copied in the “mission provinces” in America, Asia, Africa and Oceania. A genuine intercultural community is usually characterized by three things, namely: the recognition of other cultures, (2) respect for cultural difference and (3) the promotion of a healthy interaction between cultures.

9. Multi-religious context: Dialogue is a key issue in Asia. Ninety-nine per cent (99%) of the religious work with people of religions other than Christianity. Given the fact that only 17% of the world’s population is Catholic, and 33% Christian, a future without inter-religious dialogue is unthinkable.

10. Partnership in Mission with the Laity: The new understanding of the lay apostolate coming from Vatican II, that is, that the lay apostolate is an apostolate on its own right, based on baptism rather than derived from the ministry of bishops and priests. This has led to the emergence of the so-called “new lay movements” through which many lay people take it upon themselves to evangelize culture and transform society. Lay are not there just to pay, pray and work. They should be consulted and included in the decision-making process. There is need today to foster both forms of collaboration and partnership with the laity.

11. Technology and the Media seem to affect the life of religious congregations very seriously today. Religion is drowned under science and relationships under technology. Many Congregational Chapters and seminars are reflecting continually on these adverse effects on the quality of community life, prayer and spirituality of their members. Gadgets are given to reduce our work load. Between completely rejecting and totally accepting their use, there lies a third way of discernment. At present the formation of discerning men and women will be a permanent challenge for consecrated life.

12. This is the challenge that imposes itself on us at the beginning of this century – a more authentic, a more credible, and a more “readable” witnessing. A presence that is holy and authentic is the key. In a word, our vital question is witnessing.

To Conclude:

What we need is not exactly the contemplation, and not exactly the compassion and action.
What we need is much more, exactly something more, namely, COURAGE…….!
Courage to stand by our contemplations…….Courage to actualize our compassions…
Courage to translate our daily actions responding to emerging needs!
Courage to form, re-form and trans-form our commitments more and more!
Though religious life as it is lived today is in crisis, we cannot doubt its relevance in the post- modern world. We still know our identity and believe in consecrated life. It is the responsibility of each individual consecrated person to make the needed shift in her/his life in order to be an authentic follower of Jesus in the 21st century and to be on fire and to be relevant and meaningful.
When we cry, “Lord, save us” (Mt: 8: 25), the God of history will stretch out His hand and answer us: “Do you think my hand is shortened?” (Is: 59:1). Despite the present confusion and dwindling of vocations, I believe that this life is going through the process of an in depth revitalization and re-founding. New forms of Consecrated Life will certainly emerge and Consecrated Life will continue to exist in many other new forms.

 





1 COMMENTS
26.05.2019 01:23:34

Indeed, I do agree to a certain extent what the paper touches as some of the factors that have contributed to the present trend we experience today of decreased numbers in priestly and religious life. The emphasis on the charism of the founders is another area that should be explored and deliberately emphasized in formation Houses while at the same time aligning it to the changing signs of today.

LAWRENCE SITIMA FIC  

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