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The Generational Disconnect in Religious Life

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Aug 26, 2009

A new report on recent vocations to religious life in the United States by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found that the preponderance of new vocations occurred among those who especially value strong community life, common prayer, the sacramental life of the Church and forms of service consistent with these. The study also showed a distinct preference for the habit among new vocations. Both male and female recent vocations were studied.

No sooner had the ink dried than the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (they who can’t understand why the Vatican has launched an Apostolic Visitation) sought a ray of light in the report's unrelenting darkness as far as their secularized communities are concerned. For example, consider this nearly incredible analysis by Bro. Paul Bednarczyk, CSC, who was brought in to help the LCWR understand what the report means with respect to the terminal graying of their communities. It is worth quoting at length:

This data, however, for many religious institutes highlights to varying degrees the disconnect that exists in what a contemporary candidate might be looking for in her religious life and what our present vowed membership may be seeking in their own religious life and in the life of the congregation.
The reality is that the largest cohort in our congregations were formed and transformed by the radical renewal of religious life initiated by the Second Vatican Council. Faithful to the spirit of the council’s documents, women religious, in particular, admirably embraced the challenges of renewal with risk, courage and a profound trust in the movement of the Spirit which ultimately shaped them into who they are today.
This generation of Catholic women has been shaped by a different experience of church. Although they come to religious life today with the same idealism of past generations, their hopes and dreams for church renewal may not be felt with the same degree of passion or intensity as their older sisters in community.
As religious leaders, how do you bridge a younger person’s contemporary experience of church with the very different lived experience and history of church that probably your largest percentage of your present membership shares?

Now, of course, this analysis only obscures the essential problem faced by the LCWR today, but happily you have to change only a few words in the middle two paragraphs to illuminate the problem instead. So here are those paragraphs again, with my changes in bold:

The reality is that the largest cohort in our congregations were formed and transformed by the radical dissolution of religious life which followed the Second Vatican Council. Faithful to an alleged spirit of the council while ignoring its documents, women religious, in particular, shamefully avoided the challenges of renewal, preferring to risk, through lack of courage and trust in the movement of the Spirit, a fascination with the world which ultimately shaped them into who they are today.
This generation of Catholic women has been shaped by a different experience of church. Although they come to religious life today with the same idealism of past generations, their hopes and dreams for church renewal are apparently felt with the same degree of passion or intensity as their older sisters in community felt in embracing the false renewal of fashionable ideas.

That the original could have even been spoken in 2009 provides overwhelming evidence of the perverse darkening of the intellect caused by sin, which prevents so many people from seeing even the nose on their face. The problem with the newer vocations who, incidently, are shown by the study to have come to religious life with considerably more life experience, education and professional training than their predecessors, is not that they have a reduced passion for renewal, but that so many of them actually know what renewal is.

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