History of Religious Life II
Great Saints and Their Spiritual Contribution
Religious Life in the Light of the Vatican Council II
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The Institute on Religious Life and the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence
of Chicago bring you the last in a series of conferences given by Father John
A. Hardon, S. J. on the theme, The History of Religious Life. Father John
Hardon is a professor of theology at St. Johns University in New York. He
is a well-known lecturer and consultant to various national, religious and educational
enterprises and is renowned as a retreat master and spiritual director. Father
Hardon is the author of many articles and books including Holiness in the
Church and The Catholic Catechism which has been strongly endorsed
by Holy Mother Church. In this last lecture, Father Hardon speaks on the subject
Religious Life in the Light of the Second Vatican Council. Father Hardon:
Religious Life Since Vatican Council II
I think I would say something about religious life since the Second Vatican
Council. I would like to look at it from three viewpoints. First, to identify
the principle documents of the church during and since the Council, from which
the both present status and future prospects of religious life somehow will
stem. Then very briefly look at the problems, whose number is legion and whose
solution is known to God alone will have entered religious life since the Council.
And then something about the renewal and adaptation that is going on and that
shows great promise into the years to come.
The Church's Teaching on Religious Life
First, therefore, the Churchs own teaching on religious life. From the pontificate
of John XXIII to the present day, we have record, and we have Id say, the only
record in the world of all the documents issued by the Holy See somehow touching
on religious life. The actual number that Father Korchini? gave me is 1227
documents. It is then a library so that whatever problems there are in religious
life and no one doubts there are many, they do not stem from the fact that the
Church has not been either clear enough or forceful enough or insistent enough
as to what religious life should be. The teaching is there. However, there
are six documents especially that I would single out that bear emphasis excluding
the seventh which has just come out in the last year. But up to 1978, there
were six. Let me give you the titles, either in Latin or English, as the case
might be and say a few words about each because I would ask you anticipating
whatever the Lord will provide next year, that you familiarize yourselves with
at least some of the basic documentation.
The first and fundamental document is the Constitution on the Church, Lumen
Gentium, Chapters 5 and 6. Chapter 5 is the chapter on holiness, the universal
call to sanctity. Chapter 6 is on religious life. The Constitution, Lumen
Gentium, as it is called, gives us the doctrinal basis for the religious
life the first time in the history of Christendom. Never in almost 2,000 years
has an ecumenical council of the church set forth in concise clear terms what,
based on divine revelation and the churchs teaching, what is religious life.
Much of the knowledge that I have about the doctrine on religious life especially
as emanating from the Council, I received from Father Joseph Russo(?), an Oblate,
who had been Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Religious prior to the
Council and during it and then was Secretary of the Counciliar Commission on
Religious Life. He told me there were 80 meetings of bishops and superiors
generally, that is, prior to the actual convening of the Council. He told me
the original plan, well there were really two plans, and they were opposed to
each other. There was a group of bishops, a minority, but nevertheless a strong
minority that felt that religious life should not have any special document
of the Second Vatican Council. They had precedent on their side because there
had never been. In any case, then the question arose once that was decided
that there will be documentation, will it be one single document dealing with
both doctrine and norms with both what religious life is and how it should be
lived. But the method that prevailed was to separate the doctrine of what religious
life is, from how its to be lived by placing the doctrine inside the Constitution
on the Church.
There was talk, as you may know, about a special document on Our Lady. A decision
was to place it inside the Constitution on the Church. So that for all times,
the universal church has, you might say, canonized religious life as being part
and parcel of the church. As long as there will be a Catholic Church, faith
tells us there always will be until the end of time there will be religious.
Comforting thoughts, especially nowadays. Thats the doctrine especially in
Chapter 6. Perfectae Caritatis, issued
by the same Council is then, the normative or legislative side of the Councils
teaching on how religious life should be lived. Unlike, therefore, the Constitution
it is called a decree. Where Lumen Gentium in Chapter 6 is addressed
to the mind to enlighten those, all the faithful in fact, and especially religious
themselves as to what this life is. The decree Perfectae Caritatis is
directed to the will informing them and motivating them on how they should live
up to the doctrine already declared.
The third document was Ecclesiae Sanctae. Ecclesiae Sanctae
was a document specially issued by Pope Paul VI in what is called a motu
proprio. That means a document that the Pope, first of all himself, wants
written, very specially involves himself in its composition and places the full
weight of his Papal authority behind. This document, motu proprio, Ecclesiae
Sanctae was the implementation of four decrees of the Second Vatican Council.
The document was issued in 1966, to be exact, August the 6th. The anniversary
by anticipation of Pope Pauls death. The document, therefore, implements first
the decree on bishops. Secondly, the decree on priests. Third, the decree
on the missions.
And fourth, the decree Perfectae Caritatis. But since religious are
under the bishops, and not a few religious are bishops, the document on the
bishops implemented by Ecclesiae Sanctae also deals with religious life
since not a few priests or religious and all religious depend on the priesthood,
a large part of that implementation on the priesthood, also deals with religious
Since most missionaries are religious, a very large part of the implementation
of Ad Gentes Divinitus which is the Latin name for the document on the
missions, also deals perforce with religious. But it is especially Perfectae
Caritatis that in being implemented by Paul VI gives us the highest ecclesiastical
authority on how religious life is to be lived. The logical sequence, therefore,
for religious is Lumen Gentium, Chapter 6, that is dogma. Perfectae
Caritatis of the Second Vatican Council, that is decree legislation of the
aforesaid dogmatic chapter. And Ecclesiae Sanctae is the explaining
how you put Perfectae Caritatis into practice.
Those three documents should always be seen as one logical whole: Lumen
Gentium, Perfectae Caritatis and Ecclesiae Sanctae. It is
in Ecclesiae Sanctae that the Holy Father set down the norms for how
the renewal and adaptation legislated by Second Vatican should be done and it
is because of the neglected Ecclesiae Sanctae that so many communities
throughout the Catholic Church are in great difficulty and not a few struggling
for survival. Because the Pope couldnt have been clearer, and I repeat the
full weight of Papal authority is behind this.
The principle agent for the renewal and adaptation of religious life in the
modern world is the general chapter. Thats Ecclesiae Sanctae but then
the Pope says there is to be renewal and adaptation. But renewal is first
and its primary. Adaptation is very secondary. Renewal has to do with the
change of the inside spirit of the community, of its union with God, its pursuit
of holiness. Adaptation is in the external order adjusting such external features
of religious life as is necessary, well, to fit into our day. But let not,
he said, adaptation be of a price of sound renewal. But then he further said
No chapter is empowered, it doesnt have the power, doesnt have the authority
to change the spirit of the community, to change the purpose for which the community
was founded, to change its constitutions and anything which is substantive.
No chapter has that authority. And its there, theres so much folly, has
been perpetrated. Chapters assuming to themselves authority they never had.
And as the Pope couldnt have been clearer in stating they didnt have proceeded
to do exactly what they didnt have a right to do change the substance of
the constitutions, the spirit, and charism of the community and the purpose
for which it was founded.
The Pope further said the guiding light in whatever renewal or adaptation is
done by the chapters must be the charism of the Founder which and having been
doing this for almost 15 years, I can tell you many communities, the last thing
they concern themselves with, except maybe a pious footnote somewhere about
the Founder. The Pope said this to be the guiding star of its renewal and adaptation.
So much for Ecclesiae Sanctae.
The fourth document consciously made tentative was Renovationis Causam.
The purpose of this document was not to once and for all change the method of
formation of those who are entering religious life. It did, however, open up,
as many here know, aspects and features that were quite different. But whatever
Renovationis Causam taught and it taught a great deal, yet insisted that
the principle purpose of that early formation in religious life is to build
a solid spiritual foundation. The very title of the document Renovationis
Causam can be translated into English roughly as For the Purpose of Renewal.
The renewal in the churchs Counciliar language relative to religious life always
refers to the inner spirit, to a life of prayer, to the practice of virtue.
The fifth document was Venite Seorsum addressed to the contemplatives
in the Catholic Church. Venite Seorsum which may be loosely translated
as Come Away for Awhile. Draw away from the world in which you are living
and, well, engage in prayerful contemplation. The document is still the guiding
star of those who wish to live the contemplative life according to the mind
of the church. Venite Seorsum builds on the teaching of both Lumen
Gentium and Perfectae Caritatis relative to cloistered contemplatives.
We just mentioned three things about this relative to all of us. First, this
document, though it is sometimes loosely called The Document for Contemplatives,
made clear that all religious are to be contemplative. But thats secondary.
Among religious, the life of contemplation in cloister so that properly speaking,
Venite Seorsum is directed not to contemplatives, but rather to cloistered
contemplatives. And it thirdly spelled out in the most explicit terms on how
that cloistered contemplative life is to be lived. The norms of Venite Seorsum
are obligatory on all cloistered contemplatives, but sadly, as we shall see
when we touch on the problems within the last half hour that we still have left,
not all cloistered contemplatives have seen fit to abide by these norms.
And finally, prior to the document of last year was Evangelica Testificatio of Paul VI. The
apostolic exhortation which I understand from the French Dominican who was the
principle assistant of the Holy Father in drafting the document, he came to
Chicago and we spent a day together. He told me my broken French, and his better
English helped by an interpreter we managed to carry on, well, was for me a
very profitable conversation. The Popes original plan was not, but finally
was published. It was, so he said, to have issued an encyclical on the religious
life which was to have included at the end certain decrees, in effect telling
the religious of the world, take it or leave it. In any case, there was strong
representation to the Pope not to issue that forthright black and white document.
And I understand that my General was largely responsible for convincing Pope
Paul to rather publish what he did. In any case Evangelica Testificatio gives us all the
positive doctrine about the religious life but minus those strongly worded norms
or decrees if we dont do this, this or that will happen. It is a very paternal
document. It is kind. It is also very clear.
Directives of the Holy See on the Relationship Between Bishops and Religious
Finally, and this document does not have a Latin title. It is not known by
such. It is rather directives of the Holy See on the relationship between bishops
and religious. Published in 1978, it is a long document and spells out what
rights bishops have, what rights religious have, what duties each has. Tells
the bishops to understand religious life better than they do. Tells religious
to better understand the responsibility of bishops than they do. It has norms
telling each how they should deal with the other.
So this document on the relationship of bishops and religious promises to be
a very important, practical document on the countless ways in which they can
and should cooperate for the upbuilding of the mystical body and how they should
not interfere. And this is a new language which with each others charism,
the bishop is told youve got your charism, religious are told you have yours.
Both are from the same Lord, in the name of that same Lord, please cooperate.
So much for documentation.
Well, a necessary few words about problems. I might begin by quoting Father
Heizler(?) who was the under-secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Religious
who is coming to the United States this August and will be staying here as he
told me some time ago in my conversation that I had with him in Rome that among
the remarks we make about the work we are trying to do in Rome for religious,
that sometimes jokingly we say we are not so much the (Sacra Congrationae for
Religiousis (?), in other words, we are not so much a sacred congregation, as
the (Sacra Clinica for Religiousis (?) which being translated would be, well,
the sacred hospital for religious. There are so many disabled communities that
just binding their rules are staunching their bleeding veins, keeps the Holy
See busy in such a way that other work often has to be left undone because of
the problems in religious communities in countries like America.
What are some of the problems? I dont have these in a sequence in which I
would consider them relatively important. I would put secularization first.
It is a large subject, but as might be expected, it is a society that is secularizing
in so many ways. It is no wonder that, that spirit of the world which is what
secularization is should have penetrated even the thickest monastic worlds.
Secularization. When you apply so many things that it is not my business to
expand on except to say that beneath it is a loss of faith.
Second, activism. Over the years the Church has been warning her religious
time and again not to neglect a life of prayer for the sake of the apostolate.
Yet, with not a few communities, those warnings have gone unheeded. Activism
is the neglect of prayer in order to engage in, you name it, what, otherwise
worthwhile apostolic enterprise. Third. This is not so much a problem as a
symptom of a cluster of problems.
I dont remember the exact title of Fr. Dubays book, but its a paperback.
Some of you may remember the exact title in which he compares the two kinds
of religious in the church today, remember? Well, all I know is that when he
was writing that book we were together in Philadelphia, the book was already
finished, he still needed an introduction and a title. I heard that a book
had just been published in France on a subject which I discovered his book was
going to be more or less about. Now the title of the French book was something
like What Happened to Religious Life? And I think he somewhat, unless Im
mistaken, used at least some part of that title for his book.
In any case, the polarization which he there describes has by now been described
in many places. I have in mind the pre-chapter documentation that a large community
received from its Mother General describing the polarization between religious
institutes, between the provinces of the same community, between one local community
and another of the same community, polarization inside the same local community.
Until now I would say I dont have the figures and, of course, the numbers are
dwindling constantly because of the massive attrition. But I think a large
number, I would say the majority, in terms of the number of say, womens communities,
362 womens communities in America, Id say the majority are polarized. That
means theyve got religious either in one province differing from those in another
province or between one house and another. Youd hardly recognize as the same
sisters how it makes it most traumatic in the same house. And that by now I
could write not one, but three books on the polarization within religious communities
inside the same local community differing on just about everything.
I remember some time ago they had a group of sisters from the same community,
well, they decided to replace their superiors by coordinators. The upshot of
which was that they decided that, well, more than one sister wanted to try her
luck at being a coordinator. So the previous school year, this is a teaching
community, teaching for nine months, they had nine coordinators. In the meantime,
the one who was, this is the following year now, was the coordinator for the
year. They decided that nine per year was too many. They had just one. She
told me in the presence of about a dozen of her own sisters, she said, Father,
you have no idea what this means to one who still believes in the religious
life. My problem is that some of my sisters want to attend Mass in the morning
and others dont. And those who dont, insist that their sleep is being disturbed
by those who because they want to go to Mass will necessarily, necessarily run
water and close doors. She got an instruction from the leader of the opposition,
either they go to Mass quietly or none of us will go to Mass. That is a direct
quotation. As one who has been around a lot, Ive given you by now many reasons
for coming up to 1,000 miles from New York to Chicago. This is one reason.
That please, God, your communities will not be polarized.
The Loss of Members
There has never in the history of the Catholic Church within such a short span
of time, this is a large statement, been a greater loss of membership in institutes
of Christian perfection as since the Second Vatican Council.
The Loss of Vocations
In fact, is it any wonder in the light of all these already seen about problems
that vocations should also be fewer than they have ever been seeing the history
of our country? And yet, and here is the irony, and yet there are two communities
I know very well that are lush with vocations. The Missionaries of Charity
that I work with in the Bronx and the Daughters of St. Paul. I think I can
afford to be very frank though I know Im being recorded. I know them both
very well. Next week Ill be teaching the Daughters of St. Paul for five days
as I have been doing for the last three years. I have been teaching the Missionaries
of Charity every week three to four hours. By all the standards and I mean
it, by all the standards of those who wanted an updated religious life, called
updated, these two communities are not updated. I repeat, by all those standards
and some of my graduate students from New York inquiring about both the Daughters
of St. Paul and the Missionaries of Charity and New York has, Im guessing when
I say this, easily 30 communities, all quite updated. Whatever it is that draws
vocations, it is not being updated. It is whatever that community has where
the young people see themselves at the prospect of sacrificing their life for
God. They want to sacrifice.
The Loss of Apostolates
And finally, the problem the loss of apostolates. Im in the right city for
this one. In a single year, the Archdiocese of Chicago sold 26 of its Catholic
schools to the City. People wondered, by now all kinds of learned monographs
have been written for catechists. The reason why so many apostolates have gone
even out of existence in our United States is because of a loss of religious
commitment among the communities who staff them and I would challenge anyone
to disprove that statement. Im too close to the scene. Strong communities,
spiritually, maintain their apostolates. Weakened communities are struggling
to hold on and the secularized communities have lost them.
The Prospect for the Future
Finally, a few words on the prospect for the future. We must begin by assuming
that Gods providence is permitting all thats been going on since the Second
Vatican Council relative particularly to our subject in order to teach us and
to help us in the future. The first good effect that has come from all these
massive problems is a deeper understanding of the meaning of religious life.
All I know is one who has been a religious for some years, I, myself, have had
to burrow far beneath the surface. Things Ive shared with others which Ive
first had to learn from the Lord in such prayer as I engage in, although I would
never have done, speaking for one person, except that I see I must think this
Ill never forget, the vice president of one of our largest universities was
planning to leave the Society of Jesus on the Priesthood. Relatives suggested
he see me. We spent hours together one evening. I want to tell you he is still
a priest and still a Jesuit. That you understand your religious life as being
also carrying the cross. I never knew that being a Jesuit means suffering in
the Society of Jesus to maintain your vocation.
Speaking of the future, there is a stronger commitment to the religious life.
Just to see whats going on strengthens your own dedication. One of my graduate
students, a convert from Judaism, the other evening told me that she would like
to be a cloistered contemplative. She wrote to, well, the prioress of this
community. She must have sent so many questions in, asking the prioress all
kinds of things about their community, about their constitutions, their prayer
life. In a word, how do you behave? This is from a young woman in graduate
school inquiring about religious life. After answering the questions as long
as she could, I found out that cloistered community is an affiliate of our institute.
I said, Lucy, you should have asked me. Oh, by the way she did ask the prioress,
Is your community affiliated with The Institute of Religious Life? That was
a plus sign. And finally the prioress said, As a young candidate looking around
to find a good religious community, may I suggest that you ask no more questions
because as youll find out when you become a religious, your job will be to
listen and not to ask. Which by the way she thought was pretty good. Thats
the kind of a community she wants to enter.
So the stronger commitment from those who enter I screen them. The Missionaries
of Charity. Or, I wont identify, the Mother General. Were too close to home.
But she told me time was when we would very carefully screen the candidate,
make sure that she had all the qualifications, that our community needs and
now Father, I want to tell you that things are reversed. Whatever questions
we ask the girls, they ask us many more. It is not so much they, but we, who
are on trial.
Building of Religious Life
I would just very briefly report to you some of the work that the Holy See
has been doing for the upbuilding of religious life and using The Institute
on Religious Life, using The Institute on Religious Life to help
religious. We already have, as you know, and some of you may be very familiar,
some not so familiar with these publications called Consecrated Life which
is called "Informationes (?)" for the Latin and Italian edition.
We have a publication called Religious Life that is our own origin that we
are publishing to make The Institute on Religious Life and its work better
known. We have been requested by the Holy See to undertake a publication for
contemplatives and as of now the title they want for this publication, one guess,
is Venite Seorsum - Come Away from the World and Be With Me. This is
the Lord inviting me.
We are opening an office in Rome. We opened it this month. Sister Reginette,
a former member of our board, will be in charge of the office. She has just
been assigned and will begin operations in July. I am informed that the Holy
See is not only very pleased with what we are doing, but has been very heartened.
Carmelites secretary told my own superior, I might say, in New York that the
word in Rome is very clear. The die is cast. In Rome there will be doctrine
and discipline to be insured for the whole Church. And consequently, given
the present Holy Father, who, by the way, is being as you probably know already
roundly criticized, to pray for him that he might not weaken, but be stronger
because of the opposition. And that we ourselves live up to the churchs expectations
that religious life will have its own Easter season, because we have had such
a long, festive Lent.
Religious life, I already said I would like to but I do not have the time to
tell you about the new communities coming into existence, many showing great
promise and telling the rest of us to live up to what Christ calls us, wants
us to be.
My prayers, I ask for yours. Lets close with a prayer. In the name of the
Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord
is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed if the fruit of thy
womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour
of our death. Amen. Queen of all saints, pray for us. In the name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.Amen.
Conference transcription from a talk that Father Hardon gave to the
Institute on Religious Life
Institute on Religious Life, Inc.
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Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica