Friday, 21 November 2008

Pro Orantibus Day: creating oases of prayer and the ascetic life

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).


Anonymous said...

As a religious Brother, in an Order that follows the Ordinary form of the Liturgy (But I and several friars I know of, are supportive of the Traditional form of the Roman Rite) I find the attitude of some traditonal Catholics toward religious (I am not talking about heretical new age religious) overly suspicious if not rude, lacking in the virtue of charity and a respect for consecrated religious. This comment on the state of the Benedictines and other cloistered religious in Australia, I believe is unjust and unbecoming. Fistly most comtemplative religious houses seek to be faithul to the Church and fulfill the daily praying of the Liturgy of the Hours. The Tyburns and the Jamberoo Nuns also daily adore Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Of course there is always room for true renewal of holiness and we pray also in the the exercise of the Sacred Liturgy in our religious Institutes but please instead of criticising religious who are seeking to live their vocations in fidelity to the Church. Pray for them and support them. This will Help the renewal of religious life especailly in Australia in the established Orders. May The Immaculate Virgin help us all poor sinners. Br Louis Mary. OFM Conv.

Anonymous said...

Why should there be rigid distinctions?

In better times, the clergy were not adverse to weilding a sword (or mace) as the occasion demanded.

+ Thomas Wolsey

Archieps. Eborac., etc.

Terra said...

Yes I always did like the sound of that warrior bishop in the Song of Roland!

Actually I'm not arguing for rigidity, just a recognition that we do need some specialists. Those who can do everything well are the exception, not the rule.

Terra said...

Dear Brother Louis Marie,

You are quite correct in saying we should pray for the renewal of religious life in existing monasteries and I did say that, pointing to the Pope's comments.

I'm sure there are some good houses around, and your's sounds like one of them. I know there are others in every Order.

However, I don't back away from my criticisms, which are based on personal observation.

The problem from my perspective is not really novus ordo vs traditional liturgy (although I've seen serious liturgical abuses in two Australian monasteries, which I think is an issue), it is fidelity to the charism and the impact of secularism.

And I do think there is a real problem in many monasteries around the world driving the continuing crash in numbers.

I know most about Benedictines so let me talk about them.

There are some excellent Benedictine monasteries overseas (such as Pluscarden and Christ in the Desert) who sing the Office mostly in English, but more or less stick to the structure of the Office that St Benedict prescribes in his Rule. Others who use Latin for the traditional Office, but novus ordo vernacular mass (such as Norcia).

The reality though is that the post Vatican II renewal has led most houses to reject the Rule as in any sense a legislative document in favour of interpreting it 'spiritually' or in such a way as to reject centuries of tradition on how it should be interpreted and implemented. The result has been, as the monks and nuns themselves admit, that less of the Rule is followed now than before Vatican II.

Instead of going back to the sound traditions of the Order, and the intentions of the founder as Vatican II instructed, they decided that St Benedict actually wasn't their founder at all as such (and they say so on their websites).

Now where they can point to a particular charism derived from a later founder (the Tyburns are a case in point), that can work. But that isn't the approach adopted by others who still call themselves Benedictines.

So instead of maintaining the choral office day in and day out, for example, as has traditionally been one of the points of differentiation with later orders, they have 'desert days'. Instead of praying for the world, they see themselves as 'prophets' for social justice inside and outside the Church. Instead of wearing habits as a sign of witness, they put on civies to go into town for theology classes...

Now I have to say none of this is the fault of individual monks and nuns, who are certainly trying to do their best under obedience. There are certainly some elements of monastic practice at all these monasteries that we can learn from and should respect. And I do think a recovery process is now happening.

But in my view renewal, and more importantly I suspect, new foundations won't occur unless the problems with what is out there are recognised for what they are.

Dom David Knowles, an English Benedictine monk, wrote in 1969 that 'if a particular generation (even though it be our own) destroys or disfigures it [religious life], it will return again when saints arise to show its nobility to the modern world.'

I think we should certainly pray for those saints to arise.