Conference on The Future of Consecrated Life in the UK & Europe - Talks

Summaries of Talks from the Conference on the Future of Consecrated Life in UK and Europe - Hayes 29th-30th May 2012
 

Three principle guest speakers spearheaded the proceedings. Each day began with a simple meaningful Morning Prayer and continued with an address from one of the Guest speakers.

Father Timothy Radcliffe was the first speaker. His topic was
“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 my 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 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 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 thingin them. 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.

Fr. José Christo Rey, CMF: titled his Address “Missio Dei”: How to understand our Mission in Europe in this epochal change. It took the form of a PowerPoint Presentation.

He used the image of a cardiac crisis and a pacemaker. He believes Europe is in the midst of a cardiac crisis and needs a theology of mission for its pacemaker. The symptoms are depression: we are disheartened, lifeless, bewildered, life is falling apart. We religious are slaves of our work and our buildings. The cultural situation in the west in this post modern era dismays and confuses us and we have a sense of helplessness in an age of violence and the ever growing gulf between the few powerfully rich and the multitudes desperately poor. The new atheism symbolised in scientists such as Richard Dawkins distils a negative attitude to religion and the churches. Their creed: ‘there is probably no God therefore make the most of life,’ is demoralising and we seem to have no answers.

Yet this is a false picture and ‘we are the problem:’ we of little faith, Christians have a crisis of identity a sense of not belonging or of loosely belonging to a church whose heart is partially paralysed. Europe needs to be evangelised. Mission is the Action of God. We need a missionary Agenda for theology.

1. Mission of the Cosmos, Creation culminating in humanity and Jesus the one who is sent with the power of God.
2. The mission of Jesus to be continued through the mission of the Holy Spirit in the Church Christ founded for that purpose. Where is the Holy Spirit leading us? The Church is the Community of the Baptised infused with the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
3. The maternal mission of the Church. The Church is “Mother.” Her mission is engendering, rebirth. Mission without vision is useless. Follow the Holy Spirit, not the poor. The Spirit will lead us to the poor in God’s way not ours. Deep prayer, deep faith, deep trust, deep love keeps the pacemaker working.

Fr. Josep Abella CMF

Fr. Josep unfortunately was not able to be present for the Conference so his paper was read to us.
His contribution was on Mission as Prophetic Dialogue: (intercultural, inter religious, inter confessional dialogue)
The Church only exists for mission. Christ passed on His mission to his apostles and through them all who would believe in him. “Go out to the whole world proclaim the good news” Christ’s prophetic office is most clearly demonstrated by the existance of the Consecrated life.

The word prophetic is often misused. In its true sense it denotes:
1. a person or group whose life is centred completely on God and his will.
2. Having a grand passion for God and enjoying fraternity and the newness or novelty of the kingdom.
3. Renouncing all that impedes progress of love of God.

Features expressing Consecrated Life derived from the sharing of prophetic people;
1. Attentive observation of reality
2. Climate of liberty- life totally placed in the hands of God
3. Rediscovery of foundation charism and the living out of it.
4. Option for the poor and openness to be evangelised by the poor.
5. Awareness of freedom to differ from edicts of hierarchy and challenge in love when this seems to be required
6.Humility not arrogance in proclaiming what is perceived to be the truth.
8.prophesy of the ordinary life
9. shared reading and discernment of the word of God
10. Embrace dialogue: through theological reflection. It needs to be present in world forums. We need to open world leaders to God’ Vision with great sensitivity, humility and sincerity.

It is important to listen to voices around us, to be aware of change in terminology and values. Globalisation is a great vision ‘that they all may be one’ but it can be monopolised by a powerful few. Pluralism and tolerance are values that defend the rights of minorities to maintain their own beliefs customs and tradition. It is wholesome but can be threatened by fundamentalism if dialogue is not valued.

We must stress both the maternity and paternity of God for balance and harmony. The secular, the material world is beautiful, God made, interrelated and interdependent. It affords the opportunity to meet the pure God and define the purposes of religion. Yet the process of secularisation, the disappearance of the holy and of faith in a creator God is demoralising. Atheism is becoming both proactive and subtle. We cannot afford to be faint hearted; we need to build a relationship with the world but without capitulation and the assimilation of its false values. We must be understandable to the world; to be in it but not a slave to it. Harmony of communion is challenged by egoism and arrogance. Our approach needs to be simple, humble, fearless direct and steadfast intelligent and intelligible.

Openeness to new forms of Consecrated Life and new ideas is very important. Fear of the new and different, as history shows, is destructive and impedes the evolutionary process. We must be well prepared for mission that has changed greatly in our life time. We cannot cling to the past. Europe’s needs today are different. We must discern clearly what is required from us today.

What is our sense of mission today?
-To hear the cries of the poor, to accompany - walk with people, draw them from the margins to communion -with the whole.
- to develop awareness of the implications of cosmology in our theological thinking and address the ecological issues that poses threat to our environment. Dramatic climate change will affect the poorest parts of the world most.
-To recognise our mission is global and local. It is to dialogue in the power of God in every encounter with our neighbour, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. In this we strive to be open, humble, peaceful and sincere.

Archbishop Joseph William Tobin CSSR

Archbishop Tobin is Secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. He was the Superior General of the Redemptorist Congregation whose head quarters are in Rome. After completing his term of office he was appointed to his present post.
His address to the Conference was:
HOW I SEE FROM ROME, THE CONSECRATED LIFE TODAY, ESPECIALLY IN EUROPE.
He viewed this from two perspectives
1 Consecrated life as a pilgrimage: how does their vocation fit in with fellow travellers?
2 Prolonging the miracles of Pentecost.

St. Alphonsus, founder of the Redemptorist Congregation, after forsaking his career as a lawyer to become a priest, lived his first three years with the homeless and marginalized youth of Naples. In 1732, Alphonsus founded ‘The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.’ The Congregation's mission was to teach and preach in the slums of cities and other poor places.  he states it is from the experience of living the Consecrated Life in a variety of situations and roles and my current responsibilities to promote the vitality and wellbeing of this prophetic way of life that I offer these thoughts today

In looking at our way of life as ‘Pilgrimage’ we remember that the voice of the poor formed our Founders and Foundresses. The Vatican Council called us to research andreturn to our roots. Maybe Rome was not too happy with the consequences but this is an ongoing journey. We are pilgrim people. Pilgrimage is a paradigm of how you experience life. We are on a journey. We have in this life no permanent resting place. The vocation of a pilgrim is lived each, day, each hour each minute. There is no getting off the caravan. We travel with and alongside other travellers. How do we impact on them? Pope Benedict’s image expressed in recent times is apt.
“Religious life is a plant which sink roots deep into the Gospel and brings forth fruit in all seasons of the church’s life. “Pope Benedict”
Consecrated life arises from a radical living of the Gospel. Consecrated life began with the Lord. He was a pilgrim on the road to Jerusalem. He calls us to a radical living of the Gospel and fearless proclaiming of the good news. How do we do this with our fellow travellers in our time and places?

There is a new name for Love: DIALOGUE. We must creatively, create forums for dialogue. To clarify our positions, to understand the position of another we must engage with them, talk, listen and reflect with them with sincerity, and with empathy. We must be open to change to modify our views but not be gullible. We have to respect differences and discern the positives in the opinions of those whose values we do not share. Keep talking! I cannot love those who I do not know

The miracles of Pentecost need to be pondered deeply. What were these miracles?
1. They all hear in their own language.
2. They retain their own identity but find a common centre.

When the Spirit came in Power to the Apostles they rushed out of the house and began to speak to the crowds gathered for the feast. The people were amazed that each person understood in his or her own language. Today we live in multiracial multinational communities. We have to work hard to understand one another and as at Pentecost it is the Spirit that empowers and the common language is love.

Racism is not seeing people. People are invisible. Foreigners are a threat to us. We do not see persons with their needs their pain their hopes and fears. We use the label. There can be a sort of unconscious armour formed around our own culture; we need to be brothers and sisters not hosts. We create harmony by valuing and respecting difference - not trying and expecting to make every one like us.

It is our responsibility to model the Pentecost miracles. We must work hard when setting up multiracial/multinational communities; it does not just happen. It requires preparation and ongoing evaluation and assessment. We need to listen, understand and interpret.

Consecrated life needs to look at how we relate to and understand other vocations in the church. Bishops lament loss of Religious in schools hospitals, parishes. Religious, believe that in most cases these are now the areas of mission for lay people. This is a great area of tension in America between the Bishops and Religious but there is fear of dialogue. A quote from a Roman newspaper “Religious are agents of self secularisation i.e. through abandoning habit etc”  highlights another example of misunderstanding, creating tension.It is another example of the need for dialogue.

Some of our younger generation are looking for a tighter connection to Catholic tradition e.g habits,regular life style etc ; older generations had it and experienced the need to break free. Are the generations talking to one another? We have here another cultural divide calling for dialogue.

What does lack of religious vocations say about the life of the Church? We have talked a lot about crisis and its potential for growth and development. What are the unmet needs of Europe today? You must not waste your energy where there is no mission or where others can do it. Lay people will not need our permission to minister and we must not disempower by holding to what we have done in the past.

Europe needs evangelisation. Communion can bring differences into harmony. Dialogue is essential; we must travel in unfamiliar, maybe uncomfortable company seeking forums for dialogue. We need to be rooted deeply in the scriptures, to listen – with the ears of the spirit to discern, to speak simply, sincerely and without embarrassment about our faith and human destiny.
.
Have Religious reflected on what it means to be part of the local Church today. Some lay people still try put religious on pedestals. It can only happen if we let it. We religious, as a prophetic voice of the Church, must listen, understand and interpret before we speak.
A vocation is a mystery of love. Expect and welcome new forms of community conditioned by the mission. Listen consider where God is opening doors today.
The joyous letter of Paul to Philippians especially Chapter 4 has much to say to us and makes fitting end to these reflections.

A short sharing by Sr. Gemma Simmonds CJ

Her address, though short was very stimulating. She spoke of the issue of the invisibility of the Religious Life. Her question was, how do we reclaim the space we have left by dropping the religious habit? She briefly recalled the spirit of aggiornamento called for by the Vatican Council and its directive to return to our roots. The outcomes of this period of renewal were not really what Rome wanted nor expected. Yet it was right for its time. The call now for some vocation seekers, for external visibility is something we need to listen too but question deeply. It is our authentic living of the vows, the charism of our ministry and our closeness to the poor and marginalised that gives us visibility. Perhaps we need to re-examine the reasons we chose not to wear distinctive clothing. Are they still valid? If so what then is the malaise in Religious Life? Is it that not having the separation from society afforded by habit and regulations we have not worked hard enough to avoid assimilating many of the values and attitudes of our secular society?