A SEARCH FOR ANSWERS
J. B. LIBANIO
Introduction: defining the ideas
As they cross rough seas, the sturdy ships of modernity are being violently shaken by squalls at the beginning of this millennium. A culture is coming forth that is eroding modern myths, the traditional economic and political patterns, the solid foundations of rationality and time-honored religious institutions. The institution of Religious Life is being shaken in this whirlwind.
In this text, Religious Life is understood as having three structural elements, a founding experience of God, community life and mission, and not as based on the vows to a great extent. The latter are understood in relation to these three elements. Other types of Religious Life are being born, displacing the emphases and configuring new experience, especially on the community level.
The contemporary world is analyzed through its cultural aspects, which are extremely complex. We debate about the culture of life, from early childhood to the ethics of care of the elderly, about the anti-culture of death weaving its way from abortion to mass extermination through endemic disease, arms of mass destruction and through the plague of hunger. Pluralism embraces varieties of ethnicities, cultures, languages, values and religions; however, it brings about the opposite pole of a globalizing uniformity through information technology in English, the fanaticisms, the intolerant fundamentalisms, and the canons and dogmas of the orthodoxies.
Things become more complicated because of the post-modern mentality, which demonstrates an ardent thirst for the sacred along with an invasive secularization, the allure of the Transcendent along with sexual coarseness, a thirst for love and intimacy along with an uncontrolled disorder in the affective life.
These cultural expressions are not floating about in empty space, but rather are produced and nourished by the economic and political spheres, whose major effects are neo-liberalism and its worst expressions of financial globalization, the decadence of formal democracies, and the migratory mobilization of the poor, the excluded and the unemployed. Consistent cultural change is not possible without radical economic and political transformation. However, the principle role of Religious Life rests in the cultural, with an eye turned to the economic as the major factor. We have no need of Marxism to affirm this; we need only to look at the role of the economic dimension in institutions, even religious ones, to see that the aberrations produced by the economic are in flagrant contradiction to the guiding ethical principals.
Implanted in this contemporary context, Religious Life participates in the culture of life and the anti-culture of death. Since Religious Life is not ours but is a gift of God to the Church and the world, we have the responsibility to strive for it and to keep vigil over it, with the greatest possible lucidity, in this troubled state of orld affairs.
Latin America enters into this reflection not as a constituency of Religious Life to be studied, but rather as a perspective from which to understand Religious Life in its totality. It is a place from which one can see reality in its totality. Therefore, it is a totality perceived from a certain bias.
It is the South, “a metaphor for the human suffering produced by capitalism.” It signifies resistance to the domination of the North, saying, in its authenticity, that it has not been totally disfigured and destroyed by this domination. It has not been transformed as a result of capitalist colonialism, according to the strong statements of the Portuguese Political Scientist, Boaventura Santos. From this perspective on the periphery, the power and knowledge structures operated by the North become even more visible.
The religious stage of Latin America is different from the European because of a dominant syncretism, a fundamental religiosity that is becoming fragmented and individualized, and a growing number of religious agencies involved in service, while religion in Europe seems to be subject to a virulent process of secularization, despite also suffering from the “revenge of the sacred” and the presence of the “sacred savage”. The Congress situated the body of its reflection in an inter-cultural context: region, gender, age, diversity of responsibilities, all multi-faceted fidelity: to humanity today, to Jesus Christ and the Gospel, to the Church and its mission in the world, to Religious Life and to the charism of the institute.
The Approach of our current reflection
Our approach is an analytical un-moralistic reading from which emerge restrictive and intentional aspects. It is aimed at leading to discernment of the real in its ambiguity, its perplexity and its paradox. It supposes getting closer to reality and understanding it in its complexity, in order to capture those explanatory historical and structural elements leading to pathways for answers. It is based on the four indicative verbs in the base text of the Congress: to welcome, to let oneself be transformed, to begin a new praxis and to celebrate. It is being attentive to the new that is already coming forth as a gift from God, to that which will spring forth in the continuing present or in the unforeseen.
I. Aspects of the Contemporary World
1. Fear of freedom and of responsibility
We are living a paradox with regard to freedom. It is important to make a distinction between freedom of choice and theological freedom. The first is practiced with regard to material and symbolic possessions. The more we are embedded in modern society, the freer we will be to choose alternatives and opportunities. Rural people, as they plunge into the large urban centers with offers on all sides leading to decision-making exhaustion, feel intoxicated by such a freedom. It is easy to ascertain a certain illusory quality with this freedom, once people become the slaves of consumerism. We will put this kind of freedom aside.
Fundamental freedom, or the theological one, because it is interpreted in the light of revelation, refers to the essence of the self. This freedom encounters its most important, profound and radical moment when the self is put before God and must make the profound choice to accept him or to reject him. Since such an act determines us for all eternity, we hold such a freedom with great dread. It is this freedom that is the fundamental question of Religious Life. The fear of taking this freedom into our own hands makes it difficult to take on Religious Life and its definitiveness with seriousness, because it involves human beings in their totality, for life and for death. A great fear flows from this, because all is at stake. In a culture of the provisional and the throwaway, freedom, lived in its fullest sense as the giving of oneself to the Transcendent, terrorizes because of its definitive nature. It speaks of a freedom that is not realized in the world of things, but rather lies in confronting other liberties that express and make concrete for us the freedom of the God who calls.
The Search for Answers
The path to confronting the fear of making a decision can be found in forming people for freedom. There are two fundamental perspectives in understanding freedom: conquest and gift. In the political realm, freedom appears as the great flag of the French Revolution, written in the Charter of Human Rights in various forms. It was a conquest achieved with the spilling of much blood. In the economic domain, capitalism proclaims free initiative as a fundamental dogma. Workers celebrate a series of social rights linked to freedom, gained through incredible struggles, of which May Day Celebrations are a symbol. Some existentialist philosophy sets the overriding affirmation of human freedom against the existence of God. Psychoanalysis leads the fight for freedom for the unconscious. In this perspective, formation for freedom becomes an incessant struggle against forces that block freedom in and of itself. We must not neglect this aspect, because all human freedom struggles with internal and external adversaries, and religious life is not exempt from such a situation.
From a theological perspective, freedom is seen as a gift in the double order of creation and grace. God creates a free human being and sustains his existence as freedom before Him. It is a freedom wounded by sin, but not wholly destroyed. It is liberated by the victorious grace of Christ. Pauline theology also confirms this.
Freedom seen as grace brings salutary consequences to formation, bringing forth an attitude of gratitude and of responsibility. Its removes the bitterness of belligerent claims and postures of independence and total autonomy, and it situates formation in the path of fundamental relationship with God and with other freedoms, which are also gifts. One then understands how it comes precisely from confronting God’s freedom and that of ones brothers and sisters and how religious commitments are not negation but rather fulfillment in plenitude.
2. Loss of historical and ethical consciousness
The loss of consciousness of history characterizes this predominantly post-modern time. The past is fading away, the future becomes more obscure, and the present remains without a history. The major factor at play here in this loss of awareness is information technology, transmitting data without context, orientation, without causality or end, totally immediate and continually “on line.” Everything is pure present with no distinction between the real and the virtual, in a real world of “simulation,” (J. Baudrillard). There is no tomorrow nor is there an accounting. Various terms describe this situation: the end of history and meta-narratives , the end of utopia , the deconstruction of history, and others. Ultimately, there is a generalized suspicion with regard to reality, concepts, ideologies and theologies that unravel the transitory present. Religious Life is also submerged in this wave.
With the end of history, responsibility disappears as do ethics in their unconditional dimensions. No one commits himself definitively to anything or to anyone. Each decision is a current one and can be revoked for another equally present. Superficiality prevents taking on definitive commitments. One can ask if this weak historical consciousness of youth is a cultural given or a defect due to a cursory formation. Probably, it is the result of both factors.
The historical is a fundamental dimension of our human and Christian identity, and consequently, of Religious Life. For this reason, it is difficult to form a consistent identity in Religious Life without it.
The Search for Answers
In the 1970s, Religious Life in Latin America took on seriously the forming of critical consciousness, according to the steps of liberating education provided by Paulo Freire.
We put together some small tools to help the development of critical consciousness in different situations, a necessary consideration in assemblies, in looking at activities, and in studying communities. Unfortunately, it seems that we need to rethink this anew again in the post-modern era of extreme subjectivity and indocility with regard to reality. It is not a question here of provoking criticism of institutions and social realities that are beyond our purview, but rather of taking a critical look at ourselves in a movement of insertion and emergence, of proximity and of distance.
Education requires developing in people a capacity for judging and appreciating their own experience, thinking, action and situation, becoming aware of themselves in given contexts. There are three fundamental aspects to the formation of a critical consciousness: awareness of situation, possible (feasible) consciousness, and awareness of the myths of the moment. Though awareness of situation, one avoids the universalizing ideology of the particular; the limits of feasible consciousness allow for understanding the boundaries of thinking and acting in a determined time and space; and investigating myths breaks the cycle of deceptive substantiations in the current culture.
Forming critical and historical consciousness means tracking the route of concepts and of theories while learning. However, there exists a certain ambiguity in understanding the historical. It allows for a process of liberation through unmasking concepts and positions that claim right and universal power as being rather relative, situational and contextualized. One runs the double risk, however, of creating relativism and historicity. Relativism destroys any possibility of building something consistent, given that “all projects for social transformation are equally valid or equally invalid.” The opposite risk comes from historicity that imagines history as a linear development, judging all eras and cultural stages, especially in peripheral countries, from the point of view of the development of the major countries. These latter see themselves as the linear model of development and determine the stages to be covered by those who come after, the way of growth of human beings. This model will never understand or imagine that a peripheral region could be much more developed in some aspect than a “developed” country.
The creation and development of a critical and historical consciousness is favored through dialogue. Using the metaphor of the base text, of the Samaritan Woman, and also Peter’s confession, the naturalness of dialogue appears: it is to be moved by love. Only love rebuilds people from the inside, opening greater horizons of courage, responsibility and commitment. Saint Augustine sums it up well in saying, “We are what we love.” The religious knows that the first Samaritan is God the Father. He sends us the Samaritan Jesus and grows close to us through other innumerable Samaritans who cure our post-modern sores of superficiality, banality and the vanity of our decisions.
3. The neo-liberal and media context
Without going into a political and economic discussion of neo-liberalism and the implications of this in the world of media, I will talk about its ideological and cultural aspect.
The strong impact of the media is dismantling universal and fixed points of reference, while multiplying the models and views of life. Propaganda bombards our motivations, creating a logic of stimulus-seeking, going well beyond the simple rules of capitalist supply and demand. A nihilistic spirit is invading society. This means that the supreme values are becoming devalued; the question “what for” lacks an answer and finality. “Nihilism is precisely atheism, not as attitude, but as spirit. It is the dissolution of the ethical foundations of life and of their millennial grounding in the sphere of the sacred. Nihilism is based on the value of accepting nothing as the principle and end of all values,” a traumatic experience that has brought about unforeseen resistances in post-modernity.
Neo-liberal ideology, sustained by the media culture, spreads values of healthy, a cult of beauty and the body and the decisive factor of appearance, a reign of the physical and of marketing. This media triumph fully reaches the world of Religious Life. It takes up the inner and the outer life of religious, and it influences the way they perceive themselves as religious. It unravels the social fabric. In creating virtual identities, it leads to confusion between the real and the virtual. More serious still is that emotional communities of egocentric and needy identities are formed, with a clear loss of the social dimension. The liberal context favors the creation of narcissistic identities, preferably directed to the cultivation of the self and of one’s appearance and towards groups that reinforce this existential dimension. All of this feeds upon the media for sustenance.
Globalization is married to neo-liberalism in a circular relationship of cause and effect. It reinforces the latter, which in turn, instigates globalization. Increasing poverty and multiple forms of social injustice along with collective discrimination follow in its wake.
In psycho-cultural terms, globalization depersonalizes, uproots, and causes people to desist, especially the poor and more simple, who have fewer possibilities for reacting and resisting. It also provokes in many places, reactions leading to racism, xenophobia, nationalism and the formation of castes.
The Search for Answers
The superior general of a large religious congregation, when taking stock, found a real regression with regard to the commitment of solidarity with the poor, with the need to “seek the path of the poor” and to create a “style of personal and community life in solidarity with the poor.” He could say that only 9% of the members were devoted to specific social work, while he also could say, with some surprise, that ministries were full of options for the poor.
A survey of New Generations verifies that the motivation of the option for the poor carries weight in vocational choice, even though one can perceive a diminishing enthusiasm at other times. There is probably an ambiguity with regard to the motivation. It is one thing to say that one is motivated by the “cause of the poor,’ and another to want to live and remain with the poor as “an evangelical way” of life that can only be sustained through the mystique of identifying with Jesus Christ.
In other words, the longing to develop solidarity with the poor allows for three different scenarios. In the first, one is content with isolated and sometimes only sporadic actions of solidarity. One’s heart is comforted with these. Next, to a greater extent, one may seek to be a presence of solidarity with the poor in the defense of their rights, in an intermittent way and perhaps living inserted among them. A greater aspiration lies in developing a culture of solidarity. When we speak of culture, this means the creation of a real symbolic universe, in which the gestures, thoughts and actions of persons only become intelligible for themselves and for others in terms of solidarity. This would be the greatest ideal of an option for the poor.
Globalization can be interpreted through the metaphor of the Tower of Babel. An attentive reading of this text shows that the confusion of tongues is the work of God, and the desire for one language, of one speech, creating unity and uniformity outside, for the empire, and for the dominating force, is the product of human hubris. Globalization is the work of the power and the enforcement of the lords of the world who want to erect a great tower, and from its top, impose one language for the market. God comes and creates the confusion of the poor and of the peripheries, who do not accept such domination. God is the confusion of unifying power.
Continuing with the parable, Religious Life for centuries has been creating a uniform language, and here comes post-modernity disseminating confusion with new forms and expressions. Perhaps this is God’s way of acting.
We could examine this through another biblical metaphor: Pentecost. It seems that there everything happens in an opposite fashion. The Spirit unifies, and such a reading is exploitive. If one looks closely at the text, it does not state that the apostles spoke one language that all understood, but that each understood in his language, therefore in diversity.
Putting the two metaphors together, globalization appears as an imposition that the Spirit of God destroys through a confusion of reactions (Babel), and through the different ways of receiving it (Pentecost). Uniformity comes from outside, the interpretive discernment from within, from experience, from freedom, from awareness.
As an answer to this, the need for enculturation and for institutional flexibility comes forth to provide great hope and expectation. We have barely truly begun the steps towards real enculturation, even though the topic has been amply discussed, especially in the sphere of inter-religious dialogue.
4. Confusion between vocation and career
Advanced modernity has muddled the realities of vocation and career, with consequences with regard to the identity of religious. A career means competence, efficiency, productivity, and social recognition. The religious requires and is involved with preparation for the exercising of it. He enters into a commotion of courses and degrees in order to acquire always more credibility in society and thus obtain success and remuneration. A profession does not allow for failure. This ends when a person becomes incapable of exercising his profession due to age, illness or retirement. Time rules, and all are subject to external factors.
Vocation exists in a world of gratuitousness. Motivation comes from within. The “more” is revealed in whatever activity the person engages in. In the most adverse situations, such as illness and old age, vocation persists, even if it is only in prayer and in the giving of one’s life. It is characterized by its perennial nature, specific to giving oneself to God.
In a theological reading, vocation belongs first to the charism rather than to the institution. It finds its ultimate source in the call of God in the secular life as well as the religious.
The Search for Answers
Vocation and career are not two separate entities, but two different dimensions of human activity with specific distinctions. The identity of the religious relies on an appropriate relationship between the two and is threatened when a career overwhelms one’s vocation.
Vocation is primordial. It gives meaning and motivation to one’s work and not vice-versa. Religious life sees professional competence coming from and as a function of vocation and not as an autonomous reality.
A career and a vocation are distinct from one another, although they are joined. Society today values career in such a way that it becomes the criterion for assessing the vocation. Crises continually flow from this. The formative path seems to be the inverse: to look at a career in terms of vocation according to the Ignatian criterion of tantum quantum. The more the career the more help it is to vocation and to mission.
The root of the solution lies in the theological understanding of vocation as being a call from God, giving meaning to a profession. The latter enters into Religious life as the concrete expression of a greater vocation, a gift from God. There is no purely secular career in religious life.
5. The fallibility of institutions: the loss of the source of security
Religious Life received and continues to receive great incentives from the institutional Church, especially with regard to new forms, which come about through movements of renovation and new experiences of community. Besides this, the dicasteries continue to promulgate regulations.
The Catholic Institutional Church feels threatened, as any institution in post-modernity, by a growing loss of credibility, even in its highest form. In the past, attacks against it came from enemies. Through them, the institution was reinforced. The newness in the present situation is that the Church itself recognizes its fragility. The Second Vatican Council, before the sanctity of Christ, called itself holy, but also sinful, needing purification and unceasingly seeking penance and renewal. In a very visible and concrete way, John Paul II asked for forgiveness publicly for the sins and historical errors of the Church, some of which were grave and which violated fundamental human rights. Elsewhere, he wrote: “Although she is holy because of her incorporation into Christ, the Church does not tire of doing penance: before God and man she always acknowledges as her own her sinful sons and daughters.”
If this act was, on the one hand, an act of greatness of spirit, on the other hand, it produced some insecurity. If it erred gravely in the past, could the Church err the same way in the present? Thus, peremptory affirmations that absolutely guaranteed truth and credibility in the past cast a shadow of suspicion today: “who knows…?” The work of González Faus alerts us to this.
The Search for Answers
The difficulties of countering such suspicions are much larger the greater the generalized disaffection with institutions. The crisis with regard to trust affects all institutions. The May 1968 Movement in France was the epicenter of the crisis. From then to now, political, social and cultural institutions have not recovered. The Church is not exempt from this avalanche of loss of prestige, even though it continues to have some reasonable respectability in Brazil. In other countries, especially after the media revelation of scandals of a sexual nature in its midst, its discrediting increased. The press as a whole portrays it frequently in caricature, negatively exploiting its positions, especially with regard to family and moral questions.
Formation to achieve “sentire in et cum Ecclesia” is difficult. This, “not only expresses a favorable feeling towards the Church, but also thinking with and an interior communion with the Church, with one’s head and heart.” We are touching here upon the essence of the problem of grace made flesh. If in the time of Jesus, his flesh was scandal for many who could not go beyond it and recognize in him the Messiah, the One Sent by God, today the Church is the source of the same scandal. Believing in the saving sacrementality of the Church in a cultural moment when its fragility, its sinful condition, is exposed to the maximum implies a deep dimension of faith. Mistrust, suspicion and especially parallel behaviors are becoming very common in the Church itself, not to speak of Religious Life.
It is time to look at the relationship between the Church and the Kingdom of God from the perspective of the parables of the Kingdom. The metaphors of the yeast, of grain and of the hidden pearl allow one to capture the dimension of the inner mystery of the Church, in spite of all the difficulties that come from the outside. Only a mystical experience of love makes such a reading possible, leading one to avoid the two extremes of iconoclastic rebelliousness and of obsequious subservience.
6. Fluid post-modernity in Religious Life
Currently, Religious Life is feeling the impact of post-modernity. Entering into a discussion of and the characteristics of this would be too long, so I will look at some elements.
Terminology reveals some ambiguity. We have a “post” that is not only post, but “with.” There is, therefore, a post-with-modernity in which elements of these two moments coexist, and a post-pre-modernity that leaps over some aspects of Western modernity and finds some of its fundamental values by other cultural avenues. Post-modernity did not come about after the death of modernity. The latter is very much alive and progressing, in its various aspects, as, for example, in the triumphant techno-sciences of biogenetics and information technology.
Liberation theology proposes a second illustration of a critical social break, modeled on Marx, opposite a first illustration that had nourished bourgeois ideology. In talking about post-modernity, it is also fitting to set forth an “in opposition,” critically positioned with regard to the dominant post-modernity, even if it shares with it in various ways. This synthesizing description admits as many traces of the dominant view, as those views that defend an opposing position in a post-colonialist form.
A philosophical-scientific and psycho-sociocultural break
Dominant post-modernity questions and undermines the scientific and philosophical dogmas that prevailed in modernity, proposing alternatives. On the logical scientific level: plural reason and complex thinking; a constructive, relative, syncretic view of reality, approximating truth, reinforced by quantum theory; inter-, multi- and trans- disciplines; small documents and a plurality of sources of knowledge; the principle of reflexivity. In the ethical area: the need for building a global ethic; in the social, plurality of forms of the family; emphasis on fragmentation, on the margins and peripheries; heterogeneity and the plurality of differences, of agents, of subjectivities; reconstruction of plural, realistic and critical utopias arising from the poor.
Another fundamental aspect of post-modernity consists of a new subjective configuration of the individual, in which feelings and emotion are the basis of self-understanding and relationships. The “I” is at the center. It feeds on pleasure, on unifying subjective and emotional experience, as our base-text indicated, a thirst for love along with affective disorder. A new relationship is established with the body, through taking extreme care of the body and having the experience of it as a source of joy and as the fundamental way of entering into relationships with others.
This posture has its consequences for community life, leading to desire for emotional communities, replete with affection and kinship. I would go so far as to say that community meetings with few people are preferred and mega-events, instead of routine community life. Routine undermines emotion, interior satisfaction and perhaps even pleasure, and these are what drive the new forms of community. Our base text refers to the major search for meetings of various types: among ourselves and with lay persons. Options are directed toward wide family, democratic, interpersonal relationships, characterized by openness and tolerance as among friends.
The achievements of medicine with regard to pain medications, physical pain alleviated through anesthetics, and psychic pain through psychotropic drugs promising chemical bliss are commingled in these tendencies. Prozac has been greeted as the “perfect drug.” G. Sissa speaks of the “happiness of the wallet.” Beyond this, there is the addition of the pedagogy of solace that aims to have people avoid any sort of suffering, seeking to minimize or abolish pain entirely. Imagine bringing into existence a society without pain and suffering, swimming in the felicity of medications and solace, incapable, therefore, of any sacrifice, renunciation and suffering, living in a peaceful soulful fashion, with positive thoughts and a happy state of mind.
Centering on the individual as the axis of the source of values in contemporary society necessarily leads to relative values and traditions, and an accentuation of schools of experience without absolute criteria, stressing the flexible, the spontaneous and carpe diem. Modern and post-modern individualism “is characterized by the emergence of individual value at the center of the social system, the symbolic center and the organizational system of society.”
A painful fragmentation is pervading culture and individuals. Intellectual, spiritual, cultural, professional, leisure and pleasure activities and idleness are experienced alone and in disassociation. We are a great distance from the desire of the Fathers of the Council who dreamed of an integrated formation for the clergy! Psychoanalysis itself favors a fragmentation of identity, upon looking at the conscious (ego) and unconscious (id, superego) psychic structures of the individual. People confuse their self-images, now seeking anonymity, now fleeing from stable relationships, now taking great pride in appearance, and now hiding themselves in virtual relationships.
Living in a culture marked by hedonism, by immediate consumerism, by the preferential option for pleasure, sport and amusement, for the high-speed information media on the one hand, and on the other, marked by an enormous psychic vulnerability, there is great difficulty in working out frustration, anguish, expectation and difficulty in assuming a posture regarding macro-politics. Small short term transformations and small projects are preferred.
With regard to Religious Life, a distancing of the new generation of religious with regard to the social body of the Congregation is occurring. The “third man” is entering Religious Life. He knows the rules and doesn’t object, but follows them as he wills. There is a real schism, creating two languages, frequently clashing, and even in contradiction. There is a language for the external public, for superiors, colleagues and social expectations, and another real, internal, experiential language for the conscious realm. Not all of this is conscious. According to studies, even formators have doubts about the expressed motivation of those in formation, in terms of giving themselves to the poor like Jesus. They doubt their desires to be humanitarian, and their search for God. They do not trust the deep silenced conscious and unconscious motivation revolving around self-promotion, self-recognition, and the veiling of affective-sexual problems.
Religiosity and spirituality are a whole other quantity in post-modernity. Its most significant expression is called New Age. This is a universe of religious expressions, characterized by an enormous syncretism and by freedom, plurality, subjectivism and religious forms becoming autonomous, with minimal or no links to institutions or formal religions. Fundamental to this are a post-traditional view of God, of Jesus, of salvation, of religion/institutional Church, with a new religious awareness, tending towards Gnostic monism, esoteric mysticism, humanistic psychologizing, sacred holism, deep ecologic preoccupations, diffuse cosmic energy and so many other “isms.” There is a passage from “hard” faith to “soft” spirituality and religiosity. In a word, personal views of God are being fragmented, and these go as far as returning to the gods and a fluid understanding of the divine as energy, as adjective rather than noun, and even up to the death of God.
In the footsteps of K. Hervieu-Léger, B Carranza analyses how the post-modern religious climate is invading all the spheres and styles of life by means of a diffuse de-institutionalized, anarchic, drifting, consoling spirituality that performs, that is closer to new age on the one hand, and on the other hand, closer to fundamentalism, offering speeches and practices that reach the sacred, guarantee salvation, and testify to miracles and divine blessings. Both types offer consolation and identity to the faithful.
In the charismatic catholic realm, which is participating in this wave, we find inner experiences of revival, of rebirth and of baptism in the Spirit. Frequently, the mystical word comes up for discussion, translating as much the original meaning of a superior form of an experience of the Transcendent, as the most barbaric decadence through the swirl of media jargon.
There are authentic initiatives in this climate, like the Spiritual Exercises in daily life, providing a contribution for deepening spiritual experience. Such practices have been led by religious and lay persons, directed toward faithful Christians, including the lower socio-economic classes.
Reading of Scripture has taken on two very different forms in this movement. In some cases, there is a seeking of a solution to personal problems that is almost magical by means of an uncertain subjective reading of Scripture. In others, it nourishes the life of religious and popular communities through Bible-reading groups.
Socio-economic and socio-political traits
Post-modernity is manifested in the area of economics in the wake of the fall of socialism and the crisis of neo-capitalism as financial neo-liberalism, with an awareness of the limits of growth, of progress and through globalization in the various phases of production and commercialization. In the political realm, there is the failure of formal democracy and national States. The World Social Forum organized a program around the theme “Another world is possible,” with a plurality of collective projects enunciated in a non-hierarchical manner. An ecological mentality is being propagated, as well as a wider struggle for the humanization of bureaucracies.
Post-modernity is linked to a society that is extremely pluralistic in all respects. The spectrum of schools and of complexities of relationships lived in diverse social groups is widening, making understanding more difficult and paralyzing social action. Processes of inclusion and exclusion in the large cities are changing, and the level of permissiveness is increasing.
One can see a distance and a gap between the language of Religious Life and the experiences of religious in this society. In a violent, unjust and aggressive reality, one can read beautiful idealistic documents, universal in their scope and almost empty of meaning. The political and social consciousness of religious is declining.
In comparing a survey taken in the 1980s with one of the 1990’s among seminarians, the analyst affirms that “the number of seminarians who are involved (or inclined to be so) with Base Christian Communities, pastoral work with the landless, the poor in urban areas, worker movements, human rights, indigenous peoples and with immigrants has declined about 50%...” The current generation of seminarians (as well as, it seems, contemporary youth) do not exhibit clear plans for change, but are rather are taking care of their own personal realization”.
Hence, one sees drifting with regard to commitment, loss of ardor in the liberating discourse and a retreat of the communities of insertion, with an accompanying shift from pastoral social work towards liturgical-sacramental activities.
The Search for Answers
Let us imagine Religious Life inserted in this wide context of post-modernity, participating in all these realities, sometimes without reflection and through routine, sometimes reflectively and critically. Post-modernity raises many misgivings with regard to the formidable nexus of modernity that reaches even Religious Life, and the South has misgivings about the melancholy celebration of post-modernity in the North.
A response to this goes through an awareness of the exhaustion of Western modernity. It is a question of thinking about the economy beyond capitalism and socialism, of politics beyond representative democracy, of culture beyond instrumental and scientific rationality, and thus, analogically, challenging ourselves to imagine a new paradigm for religious, for the Church and for Religious Life. Religion is going in the direction of surpassing a social function and of rediscovering a mystagogy. The Church is called to go beyond its tripartite centrality of Rome, diocese, parish, and the medieval Roman Catholic paradigm (in the language of H. King), and in the wake of Boaventura Santos, surpass the colonialist mentality in search of a true ecumenism. Religious Life is also confronting transcending a Tridentine canonicity still in existence post Vatican II and the centralizing movements on the part of general governments, in search of greater enculturation.
In wider terms, what is at stake is the perspective of another greater rationality in which the primacy of rational, instrumental or scientific-empirical knowledge is overcome. It is also a question of rethinking modern social emancipation “from the perspective of the victims’ experiences, from the perspective of social groups who have suffered from the epistemological exclusivity of modern science and from the decrease in possibilities for emancipation in Western modernity, to thinking about possible transformations for modern capitalism.”
In this process, we confront the paradox of a Western culture being at once, indispensable and inadequate. We also run the risk of embarking on a celebratory, festive post-modernity that impedes post-modernity in opposition, the one that comes from the victims and doesn’t simply feast with the masters.
Going into this more deeply, Religious Life will only succeed in rising from the ashes of the post-modern fire if it rediscovers the founding experience of God, the true mystagogy, introducing religious to the Sacred Mystery. This is an absolutely incontrovertible element for a Religious Life that wants to go beyond emotional fervor and charismatic outpourings. This task becomes ever more difficult the weaker the idea of God becomes, reaching even transcendence in immanence or the fluidity of a nebulous esoteric mystique.
The Conference of Latin American Religious has for five years offered a deep, existential and prayerful reading of Scripture through the Palavra-Vida project, am excellent way of studying the Word of God in Religious Life. A prayerful reading of Scripture leads to true faith, according to the classic theological adage: lex orandi est lex credendi. Besides articulating faith and Scripture, prayer and faith, contemplation should resonate intimately with action and vice-versa: in actione contemplativus. We are not talking about doses, of spending more time or less time in action and in contemplation, but rather a living of these in a close harmony.
Post-modernity suffers from the contradiction we have referred to on two occasions and stressed in the base text: thirst for love and affective disorder. An answer to this lies in working with the dialectic of love and setting up pedagogy for it. If linguistically, we invert some expressions, possibilities are introduced. Instead of seeking self-realization through the other, we find in the other the realization of oneself. This is the profound paschal Christian dialectic, that we only find life and our true selves when we lose it, by going out of ourselves and giving ourselves to others (Mark 8:35). The renewal of Religious Life is on this road. To achieve this, it is necessary to build a true pedagogy beginning in postulancy and ending with final unction. Saint Ignatius establishes the beginning of this in “Contemplation to gain love,” two simple and diaphanous principles. They always bear repeating: “Love ought to be put more in deeds than in words” and “Love consists in interchange between the two parties.”
In the field of pedagogy, an extremely fluid most-modernity calls for more interplay between motivation and support structures. Trusting intentions and desires of persons a great deal is not fruitful, since these are already imbued with this culture and do not endure. Situated as they are in time and space, such motivations lack objective reality providing constancy. I have the habit of telling my students, as an orientation, that, “What is not on the schedule doesn’t exist.” The question is how to promote in the eyes of young people that discipline and schedules are a school of life, a condition of all normal human beings, which bring us realistically closer to the life of other persons. This is a dose of existential realism required by human living. Motivation, interior energy and utopian energy drive the motor, and the concrete, historical, and practical interventions make the path to this obvious. A certain sociologist, haranguing the base Christian communities, said that is the small successful practices that change awareness. Small, because they fit within the horizon of the feasible; practical, because they are actions intelligently realized to change a reality; and successful, because they allow for verifying what was done and thus avoid discouragement and regression.
Confronted with the novelty of this post-modern condition, the base text allows for asking if it isn’t a case of recognizing the difficulties of perpetual and definitive commitment and envisioning a Religious Life ad tempus.
7. The Return of the External
At the other side of the subjective and interior character of fluid post-modernity there lies, paradoxically, the over validation of the external. Paul VI in the path of existentialist philosophers like G. Marcel, criticized a society of having rather than being. Today the accent has been moved for being and having to appearing. We live in a society of marketing. Appearance directs the lives of people. Being and having as such are not important, rather, appearing and glowing are paramount, even if behind these lie an empty existence and illusory ownership of things. Beauty, with its twofold positive attributes as the ultimate manifestation of God’s own beauty and as seduction is a major concern for the younger generation.
New forms of Religious Life are coming forth, which accentuate the distinctive external searching for social recognition, personal security and self-promotion that serves to tell others: know that I am! And for oneself: I know who I am! And for all: validate me!
Importance is given to religious symbols, especially of power, to costumes and habits in the sense of vestment as well as repetitious external practice. Members of religious groups create their own codes of language and behavior to identify themselves and to distinguish themselves from other persons. They use expressions and rites that are only intelligible to themselves. In some cases, they go even further. They take on certain ways of smiling, a tonality of speech, a fidgeting in their walking and way of relating to others that imprints them with characteristics that are recognizable from afar, such that people and communities of the congregation are visibly identifiable.
They construct for themselves and for the group an imaginary social domain in which the persons of the founder, of dignitaries and of associates occupy differentiated places and enjoy major or less moral authority over the other members. Religious life is also marked externally by the type of works and activities they exercise in their own ways.
When we speak of international organizations, they usually receive allotments and orientations from the top in a uniform way, through letters, videos, videoconferencing, using, in most cases, modern technologies of communication. Uniformity in formation is guaranteed and reinforced by the external nature of the laws, guidelines and canonical rules common to all.
The community creates a protective refuge all the more necessary and desired the greater the modern and post-modern bombardments of elements extraneous to their type of life. What sociologists call the “total institution” is realized, in which lodging, work and leisure all take place under one roof and under one authority. Protection and even control over awareness is easier. The major interest of the members is turned inward and not to the world outside. A dual back and forth evolves: inward and outward.
In these circumstances, one easily runs the risk of fanaticism, of Manichaeism, dividing the world among the pure and the impure, those who take on the outer trappings of Religious Life and those who are outside. Instead of having religious forms in a spirit of openness and ecumenism, we have a repetition, along with the signs of the post-modern external, of archaic behaviors and practices.
The Search for Answers
It is necessary to guide such a seeking of the external through a deep spiritual experience of God, cultivating it through prayer, through the practice of faith, hope and charity. This is not possible without a minimal attention to silence, without encountering one’s one inner self.
Pedagogy of solitude exists, which is not isolation, nor the incapacity to communicate. It is rather a withdrawing in order to be sent, a renewal of the spirit in the face of the Mystery of God. This is the ultimate need of human nature, realization of the self through contact with mystery. Only in this does one find meaning for life with its suffering and failures.
Reflection on symbols also sheds light on this point. The mystery of the inner, as we have seen, leads to a real symbol, to the external creation of a one different than oneself, but which is truth for oneself and for others. The symbol, for its part, leads to mystery. It is not an empty sign, but carries the mystery of which it is a manifestation. All the external of Religious Life is not made up of nothing, of superficiality, of absence, but rather springs from the founding mystical experience.
Religious Life is unthinkable outside of the experience of mystery. K. Rahner has contributed immeasurably to the understanding, revalidation and living of mystery. He goes to the heart of the question when he alludes to the true and unique mystery of our faith, “The only really absolute mysteries are the self-communication of God in the depths of existence, called grace, and in history, called Jesus Christ, and this already includes the mystery of the Trinity in the economy of salvation and of the immanent Trinity. And this one mystery can be brought close to man if he understands himself as oriented towards the mystery which we call God.”
The beauty, depth and the authenticity of his reflection is found in relating the mystery of God to the mystery of the human being, who is always open beforehand to the incomprehensible totality of reality and who is in it through its foundation, which is God, the absolute Mystery. There is an historical link of the human constitution with the absolute Savior and the meaning of God, who, as absolute and holy Mystery, causes reality, having it incline towards Him. Man is the capacity of accepting or repelling God: this is his mystery. Through this, the human being is structurally correlative to the mystery, is mystery because in his nature he is an intimation of the Mystery. Human transcendence emerges as, “a transcendence open to the absolute mystery of God who is the absolute immanence of forgiveness.” God signifies the silent, absolute, unconditional, incomprehensible Mystery. In its infinite distance, it evokes that horizon towards which an understanding of particular realities moves, as a whole, and for all time, in an incomprehensible and immutable fashion, as well as relationships and our dealing with them. This horizon remains permanently silent, always at the same distance. When it ends, so will all understanding and all actuation bound to it. The human being is an indefinable nature, empty, whose limit is an unlimited intimation of the infinite Mystery of plenitude.
These brief references to K. Rahner point out the mystery of the infinite and absolute God who is in relationship with us, drawing us out of narcissism as well as the external superficiality of post-modernity.
The liturgy, in its pedagogy of mystery as the true mystagogy, provides an excellent path for Religious Life not to lose itself in the purely external. It does this in an excellent way, by bringing together the visible symbol with the reality of grace that is realized in it. Such a lesson becomes all the more important the more we experience the shouting external of the world through the media. Such an education combines cultivating an experience of God in depth and in silence, and living a liturgy that celebrates the inner mystery in the external symbols.
The erosion of traditional Religious Life and the confrontation of its new forms
I will deal with the phenomenon of the erosion of traditional Religious Life by using some key words: the canonic leveling of charisms; the invasion of the bourgeois into community life, bringing about an increasing distance between the tenor of the life of religious and that of simple, poor persons; the loss of the life-blood of contemplation in favor of routine spiritual practices or in favor of external charismatic fervors of disincarnated spiritualism or even of an uncontrolled purely secular activism; the weakening of the idea of God; the dualism of prayer life and apostolic activity; the gigantic weight of works that foil missionary creativity; the aging of members without an accompanying influx of new generations; a patronizing adaptation to the life of consumerist and hedonistic modernity even in poor countries; a growing individualism in it narcissistic and virtual connotations.
The new forms of Religious Life present the vigor of opposition, first in life and practice, then in speaking and indictment, against this gloomy side of traditional Religious Life.
The Search for Answers
The first answer comes from the Spirit that gives rise to a wonderful budding in the old wood of traditional Religious Life; there are some new buds and some noxious ones, some contaminated by pests. In order to understand this phenomenon, we return to the same metaphors of Babel and of Pentecost that helped us understand globalization. Only one speech prevailed in classical Religious Life, a single canonical language that imposed itself in its monotonous uniformity, and it was thus that God comes to sow confusion among the tower builders. We now find ourselves before a proliferation of new religious forms. This does not mean that all the effects of confusion, caused by God are desired by Him. But they have to do with his initiative, if we understand the Babel passage.
Pentecost adds to or even corrects the experience of Babel, when a plurality of people hears the same message in their own language. (Acts2:7-13) Thus each new form, in its originality, brings a mark of a certain unity. Where do we find it? We find it in the Johannine intuition that the Spirit leads all to Jesus Christ, the intellectual understanding of that same Gospel. Unity is built from the inside and not from the outside, as happens with canonical and legislative leveling.
These new forms reveal the freedom of the Spirit. Cardinal Ratzinger considers as marvelous, “the energy and enthusiasm with which the new ecclesial movements live faith and feel the need to share with others the joy of this faith received as a gift.” These movements are characterized by their birth through a charismatic leader, being shaped into real communities, trying to live the Gospel in its moral integrity and exigencies, and recognizing in the Church the reason for living without which they would not exist. They enter into the apostolic mission of the Church in a spirit of social service, based on a personal encounter with the Lord, nourished by a faith rooted in the Church, The Christological, pheumatological, ecclesial and existential dimensions of a personal following of Christ and an experience of the Spirit in the Church come together here. We have a demonstration of the new expressions of Religious Life coming forth from such movements. Naturally, they participate in the ambiguity of history and lack discernment. This critique is directed especially at the pedagogy applied by various of these new forms.
The pedagogy of dislocation, of disruption, relates to an ancient dimension and a contemporary one. The Gospels and Saint Paul stress that following Jesus means a disruption, due to embracing the Christian faith. Sin, blindness and the old man come before taking on the newness of grace and of light and the new man. This is part of the old and most genuine Christian traditions. Yet, there is something new in the pedagogy of certain new religious forms. They deal with a generation of youth who have very little sense of guilt. Without entering into an interpretation of this, confessors can daily witness the silence of youth with regard to actions which in the past were the principal and repetitive content of confessions. Without a doubt, psychology has exercised an enormous role in removing culpability and responsibility with regard to sinful acts.
Faced with this fact, some ecclesial movements of renewal, from which are born many new religious configurations, have inverted the pedagogy. They have returned to harping on sin, especially in the area of sexuality, bringing about a new type of guilt and feelings of anguish. To be free from such a situation, they propose the path of conversion, especially by joining and participating in these movements. So we have the interplay of the before and the after. If before, one was immersed in sin and spiritual mediocrity, now one is full of fervor and action. In these conversion movements, there is also a festive and celebratory side to entering into the movement or the new form of Religious Life. And this is one of the aspects which attract!
This process is greatly facilitated by contact with the undoubtedly striking personalities of the various founders, who reinforce the pervading strength of the call to conversion. Moreover, this gesture is imbued with external signs that are even more impressive. In some religious forms begun in Brazil, members display in all purity and simplicity the new way of living. People from the neighborhood come into their houses, become acquainted with their way of life and participate in their lives. The poor are brought into their homes, and beggars to sleep in their rooms, while the members themselves sleep on the floor. All this takes place before the admiring eyes of visitors. These members are living a new type of the option of the poor that is close to the medieval style and that repeats, almost literally, the religious epic of Francis of Assisi.
Joined to this experience of dislocation is a pedagogy of early childhood education that produces strong feelings of belonging and identity in the members. They feel they are in a family, while living in a fragmented society characterized by painful anonymity. Religious Life fills an existential vacuum, giving the sensation of having something precious and worth celebrating. This reminds us of the metaphors Jesus used to describe the reality of the Kingdom of God: the yeast, the grain, the pearl, the banquet and the wedding.
Traditional Religious Life is called to be in dialogue with these new forms, avoiding the either/or dilemma. We are moving toward an every more pluralistic Church, and Religious Life will have a role to play in this pluralism. Both forms can and should mutually nourish each other. The new forms have much to learn from the history of Religious Life, and the traditional form feels challenged to look within and see its wrinkles and defects. In the concrete day to day, a collaboration on three levels is necessary, the levels of the experience of God, of community life and of apostolic mission.
Another recourse for Religious Life is the create a sacramental model. We need to explain this, because the experience of the Church in the Second Vatican Council is behind it. It confronted a painful dilemma. On the one hand, there was the ecclesiological tradition of Trent and Vatican I, which strongly accentuated the external elements of belonging to the Church. On the other hand, there was the tradition of the Reformation that stressed the opposite pole. In the desire to be ecumenical, however, and in the desire to be as close as possible to the reformers on the one hand, and on the other, to remain faithful to the fundamental un-negotiable elements of the Catholic tradition, the Council found in the category “sacramentum” a bridge between the two traditions, overcoming the impasse.
The external dimension of the Catholic tradition is maintained. There is no sacrament without visible sign. But the invisible side of interior grace communicated and received is also present, accentuated more in the evangelical pouring out.
The fundamental question with regard to this model is to ask about the meaning, significance and inner reality of the rules, regulation, signs, symbols and the practices of Religious Life. If they do not promote any personal experience, spiritual or inner, they have no reason for being. For its part, if the inner does not become external in some form or practice, one can fear Religious Life becoming pure arbitrary subjectivity. This sacramental structure becomes a criterion for discernment. Religious Life withdraws from pure interiority, affirming the incarnation of grace, as well as rejecting pharisaism, legalism, and the externalization of religious rites without a corresponding inner experience.
The sacramental model, however, tries to articulate internal convictions, the conversion of the heart, and the conscious commitment to address social and external needs, as consecrated life within a social body. What can we do to have Religious Life live according to such a model?
The reinforcement of the external in some new forms of Religious Life does not respond to an awareness of modernity and post-modernity that values the inner person and his autonomy. For its part, capitulation before fluid post-modernity runs the risk of degenerating into subjectivism and arbitrariness that would spell the death of Religious Life. Being committed to strengthening the external signs of Religious Life, much to the liking of an insecure generation, formed through the media culture of appearance, can have an immediate success, fascinating and ecstatic. It does not respond, however, to the deepest part of Religious Life and is a dangerous disfigurement of that life.
If the path of visibility seems at first to have more success, the journey through the opposite way of the inner symbolizes a clear way of being in opposition. However, it promises no future. The path of intimacy is uncontrollable and loses itself in an unhealthy deterioration.
Therefore, the sacramental model seems to be the path to construction. As such, it has a double task, to offer sufficiently strong and well-based parameters in the face of the fluidity of post-modernity and to go deeply to the sources of Religious Life as a response to the external that is gaining in strength by way of authority. We will go more into this question.
There are clear symptoms of the exhaustion of traditional Religious Life, as we said at the beginning of the section. Given this, Religious Life is called to a movement of returning to its sources. This means looking at its phases of development and discovering moments of shifting, and analyzing and criticizing these in the light of current data. It means seeing those changes that appear to be deviations and taking up again the first evangelical inspiration.
This is a monumental task. Each congregation can do it with regard to its development, from the initial founding event up to the present day, capturing those points of shifting and of eventual going astray, in order to return to the primal inspiration.
It would be a long task and beside the aspirations of this presentation to go about detecting the constrictions of classical Religious Life in these last years and the sensation of exhaustion that comes with regard to the surging of new views. At the end of Vatican Council II, Paul VI set Religious Life on the path of returning to the initial charism. In the specificity of each congregation, there is a common and fundamental point to all: following Jesus Christ. From that, it draws all its inspiration. This theme deserves detailed study. We can refer, in a particular way, to the texts of Jon Sobrino, restructured in a personal and original way in the work of Sister Vera.
It is not a question of lingering with dogmatic Christology, even if that is important, but rather with the person of the Palestinian Jesus whom modern exegesis is continuing to recover ever more within the primitive message. What is at stake here is the Christian mystique of a passionate following of the person of Jesus and his style of life as an option for life, and a founding experience of Religious Life.
The Kingdom of God figures centrally in the life of Jesus and of God of the Kingdom. In this we find the unique and singular role of the poor, the excluded, and the sinner as the prime receivers of the Kingdom and the preferred loved ones of God. In following Jesus, the religious meets once again the figure of the poor in all its clarity and exigency. Jesus Christ is the door to the experience of God, in which there is no separation between God and the world of one’s brothers and sisters. The evangelical model of living Religious Life necessarily involves this openness to the poor, thus becoming significant for the religious and for those outside this form of life. However, the poor do not always have the same historical expression at different cultural moments.
Forms of poverty follow one another all through history, but in all of them we find the reality of a basic deprivation with regard to the good things of life. Against this background of the poor being prematurely and unjustly condemned to having no life and to not being accepted by society, a following of Jesus based on this reality imposes itself upon religious.
It seems obvious that any refounding, renewal or reinvigoration of Religious Life must go through relationship with the poor. The option for the poor is the greatest sign of the credibility of Religious Life. This is not a theoretical question about poverty that was the concern of practically every founder of religious congregations, but rather deals with our relationships with the physical poor in their old forms and in their forms of today. Millions and millions of exiles and refugees are circulating about the globe. They have left their countries for a myriad of reasons, for economic reasons, because of poverty, and unemployment, because of ethnic and religious conflicts, and because of internal wars and wars fomented by the great powers. All of this happens in plain sight of all of us. These masses of people seek to go to the rich countries, which, in their turn close or control ever more closely their borders. A Religious Life that is blind to this phenomenon on a world scale passes like the priest and the Levite alongside the wounded man. The parable of the Good Samaritan, the icon of this World Congress of Religious Life, is not understood.
A number of factors, from the dearth of new members to the rapid aging of persons, along with the weight of apostolic work and a new theology of laity, have moved Religious Life to a new and promising relationship with lay persons.
In a more superficial and immediate moment, a more close collaboration with them was sought in order to pursue work in education and social apostolic work, which could not have been done due to the absolute lack of religious. In this way, more lay persons became associated with religious up to the point of participating in leadership, while the religious congregation maintained the ultimate authority. In a deeper way, some congregations are sharing life with lay persons on the level of the charism, spirituality and community life, even some juridical expressions of belonging. This phenomenon is happening in traditional Religious Life and is becoming a common note in the newer forms of Religious Life. In these, original modalities go beyond current canon law, bringing about paradoxical reactions of support or suspicion on the part of ecclesiastical institutions. Within a same movement, living now under the same roof or under different ones, there are priests and lay persons in consecrated life with permanent commitments, and lay persons who are thinking of marrying or who already have.
A generalized movement in society has opened up perspectives for Religious Life with regard to the areas of works and action. For economic reasons, many institutions have sought out partnerships or third parties. Although there is a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty in this type of economic relationships, they can produce, however, excellent apostolic fruit in the pastoral field. Recently an editorial in a theological journal in Brazil asked if it was not the time to avoid a multiplication of theological reviews by different faculties and institutions and join together to produce one journal. Going further in this direction, Religious Life has hitherto unexplored possibilities to create partnerships and collaboration with other similar religious, church and secular institutions.
The “new social movements” present challenges on a regional level and world level for each congregation to go further with going out of their little world of apostolic activities. What will be the participation of Religious Life with regard to ecological movements, pacifist, anti-armament activities, to questions of ethnicity, gender, the defense of human rights, the struggle for land for indigenous peoples and the landless and homeless, the state-less, in other words, with regard to an innumerable number of movements?
Religious Life is implanted fully in a growing post-modernity. One of the characteristics of this cultural moment is skepticism, ennui, emptiness, existential nausea with regard to the future. Nothing seems to mobilize people. All energy is expended in the “carpe diem”, seeking the enjoyment of the present moment. In all of this, people are enclosed in a sad narcissism and materialism.
Felicity produced by chemicals and the exaggerated caring for the body sustain this narcissistic materialism. People take anti-depressants at the least sign of physical pain and psychic disturbance. Some live in the permanent Prozac euphoria. They cannot bear the mystery of the self, the loneliness in the affective life, failure or any suffering. The body receives the care and attention once devoted to the spirit. Once with bookstores and libraries were in abundance and there were few academies of physical training, today the former are closing and the latter are multiplying.
Such a climate reaches young people to the full. They are extremely sensitive to the double cult of an induced happiness and the well-muscled body. Religious Life wants to find followers among them, if it wants to continue. What to do? A twofold message is expected of it, not only in words but especially in life style.
The first message is one of hope. Spes contra spem, hoping against all hope. The cheerfulness of the religious, his enthusiasm for his life, and his joyful going forth into mission spread hope among young people who are prematurely aging. Life is losing meaning, and because of this, youth are lost in idleness with no important tasks.
The relationships that youth establishes wither, and where there was the newness of love, there seems to be only the enjoyment of the body of the other. They learn a great deal about sex and forget love. Young members in Religious Life have much to tell us about this. The newness of pure love that invades the lives of many groups of young consecrated people having the same charism and closeness in work or living situations, shows the wonder of purity, while this dimension seems bitterly condemned to being forgotten.
We are, however, neither ingenuous nor romantics. There are perils in both extremes. There is a return to the moralizing and repressive songs of the past, and ambiguous relationships are covered over with verbal purity. A mature balance in relationships will continue to be an ongoing challenge, especially in the young generations with their open affective natures and in the flower of their youth, where murky expressions of fear or evasive verbalizations can infiltrate.
Renewed hope and love are signs of a new dawn breaking, said J. Delumeau. In times of crisis, we return to the fundamental and primordial bases. When all appears to be in turmoil, we concentrate our efforts on the solidity of existence. Hope and love are two of the most important realities for human existence. It is important to remember once again the great presence of K. Rahner. In his first public lecture in Munich after the Second Vatican Council, he said, “all that the Church does, all that is institutional, juridical, sacramental, every word and action, as well as any reforming of whatever ecclesial element, in the ultimate analysis—if it is rightly understood, and not with traces of self-worshipping—is all service, pure service, a simple offering of help for something entirely different, the simplest thing, and, therefore, ineffably difficult and sacred. This is Faith, Hope and Love, to be instilled in the hearts of men. To use an example from the world of science, we can say that something very similar happens in the process of extracting uranium. We know that a ton of uranium ore must be mined to obtain 0.14 grams of radium. Nevertheless, it is worth the effort. A Council also seeks the heart of men, the believing, hoping and loving heart that yields to the mystery of God. If it is not to be some horrible theatrical presentation or idolatry of man and the Church, the process must be on this order. What Paul says in the hymn of love applies to the Council as well as to Religious Life currently: “If I have the gift of prophecy, understanding all the mysteries there are, and knowing everything, and if I have faith in all its fullness, to move mountains, but without love, then I am nothing at all.” (1 Co 13:2)
The agape dimension of Religious Life is its greatest sign of credibility. H. von Balthasar wrote, “Only love is worthy of faith.” The rejuvenation of Religious Life will depend on the signs of love it can radiate inwardly and outwardly. In an extreme commercialized world, based on self-interest, profit, and gain, gratitude breaks through like the luminous dawn of another society. The beginnings of every genuine religious branching out are present. When economic interests meddle, the transparency of the original spring is muddied. The economic systems and mentalities present today make it very difficult for religious to live and witness gratuitousness. It is demonstrated rarely and with great difficulty. It needs to be reinvented through new forms.
The spirit of service and of poverty is closely linked to gratuitousness. Both of these—service and poverty—offers a new way of recovering the professional and vocational relationship. The spirit of service is a quality that any professional work or activity of a religious should display. It is the vocation that provides the elements of grace and spiritual beauty to the career.
The spirit of poverty and of simplicity is Religious Life’s answer to consumerism. It is told that when Father Arrupe went by a shopping center, he said, “So many things I don’t need!”
Moreover, Religious Life maintains an ineluctable eschatological dimension. At the same time, it offers to religious an astounding freedom with regard to the present and an unlimited commitment in this same present, because in it resides definitiveness beyond history. The definitive and the eternal are not dimensions that increase in the real present, rather they traverse and go beyond time. The definitive begins in the present. It will only be that which it was.
One last point, paraphrasing K. Rahner, who said, “I believe because I pray,” we are religious because we pray. The experience of prayer nourishes Religious Life, without it, the spring goes dry. Any return to origins implies a new and fresh visit to the pure waters of vocation.
In conclusion: The Problem with vocations
The path has been long. What about the future of Religious Life? It unmistakably depends, based on an obvious law of biology, on the arrival of new generations. Therefore, the vocational problem is crucial.
The new movements have created an interesting strategy in terms of “concentric circles.” It is not new, but they have used it very successfully. It consists of dividing the young people according to different levels of participation, formation and needs, and to work on these, however, perhaps in different ways. There is a smaller circle that assumes a full-time religious life in a consecrated form, establishing close juridical links with the religious Institute. Obviously, there will always be within this group those who excel more and receive more. It is a smaller circle made up of yet smaller circles that are demanding and receiving more formation. Then we have a larger circle of those participating in the movement. They are attracted to it, without having institutional links. Here there are various degrees of greater or lesser closeness. There are those who maintain contact by letter or through contributions, who receive the newsletter, and those who are at a greater distance, maintaining, nevertheless, real participation. In practice, many change circles, going towards the smaller circles and greater commitment.
The pedagogical construct offers innumerable possibilities based on the circumstances. The important element is the intuition of the work that is differentiated progressively with regard to the members of the new generation. Not all begin with the enthusiasm and generosity characterizing those in the inner nucleus. No possible link should be lost, however tenuous it may be. Thus, others circles of persons with more or less commitment can be revolving around the smaller more committed nucleus of members. Through information resources, it is possible to envision setting up virtual circles keeping in touch with the movement and the movement reaching out through the web.
The risk we run with having few fish in the sea is to be happy with whatever fish we catch, lowering the level of requirements with regard to the spiritual and intellectual capacities of the candidates. A passage from John provides an expressive parable for vocations: “Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, ‘what do you want?’ They answered, ‘Rabbi,’—which means Teacher—‘where do you live?’ ‘Come and see’ he replied; so they went and saw here he lived, and stayed with him the rest of the day. It was about the tenth hour.” (John 1:37-39)
The question is do we have enough courage to ask Jesus’ question and give the same answer as he. What do we have to show? Do we have zeal in missionary activity, faith flowing from a contemplative life, a sense of the church, prayerful discernment and simple and fraternal community life?
Statistical studies help to give us an idea of the population that comes to us. In terms of Brazil, we have made a journey that brings up some questions regarding the authenticity of vocations. Vocations come for the poorer social classes to a middle-class life of abundance, from the rural to the urban world, from work to study, from public schools to better schools, from lack of social status to a place in society, and with an affective transference from the father/mother structure to that of the institution/formator. Besides this, formators have had increasing difficulty in discovering conflicts in a timely manner and with competence, in those being formed.
Post-modernity is bringing forth a different generation allowing us to see certain signs of hope and configure a new form of Religious Life. It has the ability to experience pleasure while being sensitive to the playful, to the festive; it values the body and one’s own subjectivity without being easily dominated; it develops a sense of self-evaluation along with a care of the self and intimacy with the self as a defense against a dangerous, violent and fragmented society; it can see its own limits, but with strong self-affirmation as an answer to insecurity with regard to self-realization; it displays rebellion in the face of backward institutions and impatience with despotic authority; it shows feelings of belonging with regard to its motivation and broad, democratic experiences; it cultivates bonds of friendship between groups with desire for a fraternal community life and shared prayer, personal life and mission, and is also open to friendships with persons outside the community; it prolongs the timing of important decisions so as not to put an uncertain vocation at risk; it is more tolerant, has fewer preconceptions and prejudices with regard to race and deviant behavior; it has greater sensitivity towards new forms of life; it finds relevance in the daily, the small, the individual in the participation of micro-institutions leading to institutional flexibility in Religious Life; it seeks transparency in the institution and in authority for its decisions, especially in the area of economics, social and working relationships; it invests in community management, and shows increasing ecological, pacifist and liberating awareness with regard to gender.
A young person in formation gives a good summary of the post-modern vocation: “A God who is so generous that he gives one, two, three vocations through which we can be realized. For a God who is so close to us and for a culture as relative as ours, the perpetuity of the vocation is less important than happiness in it. Vocation goes from being eternal—I was chosen from my mother’s womb!—to being relative and temporary—I was called to freedom. Can it be that a vocation is less than it was in former times? Has God changed his opinion? He has not, but we…
1. In terms of theoretical intellectual exercise, how can the culture of the joyful present of the young generation grasp the existential exigencies of a Religious Life lived through definitive commitments?
2. In terms of experience, how do I see the twofold movement, the tension between the search for religious externals and a narcissistic individualistic focus?
3. In terms of action, what concrete, visible practices do we have to form young people