Father Timothy Radcliffe “Dreaming a religious life for the UK and Europe: a future with hope.”

We are living through a time of crisis but hey! What’s new? Humanity has staggered through crises from Genesis to current times. It is not the crisis but how we face the challenge that is important. Times of crisis can be fertile times of growth and renewal.

 Today we are facing a crisis through the shortage of vocations in our part of the world. While Religious life flourishes in Asia and Africa, here in Europe and UK it seems we are in serious decline but there are signs of revival. We must not be obsessed with our own survival. Jesus did not say ‘I have come that you may survive’ but ‘that you may have life and have it to the full.’ We need to be turned outwards, liberated from self preoccupation. Abundant life always means stripping, death and resurrection. Renewal will happen if we are unafraid of death and resurrection, if we live for others.
Our culture is experiencing a crisis of meaning. Our catholic culture is deadened by guilt and a sense of the remoteness of Church documents. We must avoid a retreat into a Catholic ghetto but also the assimilation to the culture of modernism and secularism. We need to recognise and uphold the best values in our modern secular culture i.e. tolerance, democracy, the right to freedom of speech and respect for women. We must dialogue and find ways of mediating between the secular society and Church. Importantly we must think of the Church as the Community of the Baptised not simply the Vatican and Hierarchy. We must accept our responsibility for the mission of the Church as expressed in the prayer of Christ at that great moment of Crisis for the Apostles when they finally realised he was going to his death. ‘May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us as you are in me and I am in you that the world may believe it was you who sent me.’ This is our destiny, the destiny of all believers and the mission of the church is to spread this good news.

The Consecrated life is the place of interception between Catholicism and Modernity particularly our Vows. They are deeply counter cultural and we must be completely true and at home with them and able to speak freely and simply about them when occasions present themselves. This requires us to renew our understanding of our vows and the theology underpinning them. If they have become platitudes for us we cannot offer any sort of witness and may indeed give counter witness.
Obedience means listening, and listening deeply. It gives us the freedom to give our lives away to the service of the Church, the community of the Baptised. Within the church today there is a crisis of meaning, of obedience, we cannot always understand what is coming from the hierarchy; there is a widening gulf, a sense of remoteness of not being on the same wave length.

We need to listen deeply to God, to the hierarchy, to the poor, to our charism. We need to avoid bitterness and cynicism. We need to read the church documents carefully prayerfully. We do not need to approve of every thing. Pope Benedict reminded us that conscience is above all, but it has to be an informed conscience. Consecrated life is a prophetic life. And sometimes our responsibility is to challenge authority. We challenge in love with empathy and sincerity, without arrogance or stridency.
Our religious vows lead us to places where we can be a bridge between faith and modernity. In a culture of control and loss of sense of the providence of God we witness to the power of love and self giving. We demonstrate that it is possible to love and relate to people who do not agree with one another or with us.