Today is Pro Orantibus Day - for those who pray; set to coincide for the feast of the Presentation of Our Lady in the Temple, since Our Lady (who spent her early years as a vowed virgin in the Temple) is the model for cloistered religious, especially women.
The decline of religious life
The time since the Reformation has seen a gradual erosion of the idea of specialization - most societies, once they get past the nomadic hunter/gatherer stage gradually become more specialized, with a division between those who work, those who fight and those who pray.
There is a good reason for this - for as civilisations develop they must acknowledge ever more strongly, in line with the gifts they have been given, their dependence on God. Thus, in the Old Testament, when God bought his people to the Promised Land, he instituted the priesthood.
The existence of a priesthood, ascetics living in the desert, or the Temple virgins (or their equivalents), doesn't of course let the rest of us off the hook when it comes to praying. But it does signal the importance that a society places on God.
So the dramatic collapse of religious life, decline in priestly vocations and the prevailing view that we don't need these institutions simply reflects the Enlightenment attempt to exclude God from our lives.
It also reflects the idea that anyone can do everything equally well - we can all be pseudo-ministers, we can all be 'contemplatives' even in the world - without the necessity of sacrificing anything. Except when it comes to sport (and even their the repeated drug cheat scandals are evidence for my point), we've lost the sense that excellence requires self-sacrifice and total commitment, and that we don't all have to do everything - rather we are part of the mystical body of the Church where each has a particular, distinct and specialized role to play.
So pray today for a renewal of religious life
If we want to restore Christendom, we must restore the balance in our society; so please do pray today especially for those who live the cloistered religious life.
The problem of course as we all know is that most cloistered religious today don't actually pray, at least liturgically, all that much - none of Australia's Benedictine monasteries for example, as far as I know (I'm not sure about the Tyburns), manage the psalter in a week that St Benedict decreed as the bare minimum necessary to avoid accusations of sloth (Rule, Chapter 18). Nor, one suspects, does asceticism play a huge role in the lives of many Australian (or other) monasteries.
So really we must pray for those few monasteries that are truly committed to their vocation, and for the true renewal of religious life, in line with the Pope's comments yesterday, that:
"...monasteries may increasingly become oases of ascetic life, where the allure of the nuptial union with Christ is felt, and where the choice of the Absolute ... is immersed in a climate of constant silence and contemplation".
More particularly, please pray for the restoration of traditional religious life - especially for new foundations and vocations.
And of course, don't forget to pray for the deacons set to be ordained tomorrow in Canberra, Messrs Rehak and Popplewell FSSP...
PS First Masses
First masses will be Sunday in Canberra (soon to be Fr Rehak) and, rumour has it Thursday in Sydney (soon to be Fr Popplewell).