|CATHOLIC SAINTS INDEX||A||B||C||D||E||F||G||H||I||J||K||L||M||N||O||P||Q||R||S||T||U||V||W||X||Y||Z|
Reflections On Religious Life
--by Marc J. Ratusz BA, MTh.
Religious life in its myriad of forms and charisms begins and ends, with Jesus Christ; the Alpha and the Omega, strengthened, and maintained in the power of the Holy Spirit. Since all religious life is grounded within the existence of the Church, protected under the caring mantle of Our Blessed Mother.
What is religious life? To put it very simply, it is the living out of one’s calling within a particular community according to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Each community has this at its heart, its life and form will grow out of a specific response to the world around them, inspired by Christ and governed by the three great vows.
What are the origins of religious life? It all began with Christ choosing His twelve disciples. At Pentecost when the Church was conceived underneath the Cross, communities of men and women arose. These people became to be known as the Asetes, from where we obtain the word ascetic. Men and respectively widows and virgins, would gather together to pray, and to live out the commandments of Jesus giving everything up for the kingdom of God: to live the evangelical counsels to their utmost. Already by the third century, the consecration of virgins was carried out under the auspices of the bishop.
Monasticism became the first codified form, and thus is the oldest example of religious life in the Church. By the fourth century, we see the ascent of the prototype of the early form of monasticism, St. Anthony of the Desert. He gained much popularity, and in time people gathered with him at certain times to pray, and to sing the Psalms. St. Anthony though was a hermit. It was not until the time of St. Pachomius that a true sense of communal life, prayer, and work took hold. He created the first religious order, becoming the head of the group of communities living under the rule of life, which he devised. His sister, eager to live the same type of life, was able to have a community built for women.
Late in the fifth century we have the paramount example of western monasticism. St. Benedict of Nursia, wrote up a Rule of Life, which is the basis of monastic life in the west to the present day. Religious life of monasticism became to greatly flourish. Later in the twelfth century, a major monastic reform was under taken at Citeaux, in France. Hence was born the Cistercian monks. In the thirteenth century, we see the beginnings of the mendicant orders, the Franciscans, and the Dominicans. The Poor Claires is a women’s community founded after the Franciscan example. In time, hundreds of orders of men and women, each with a specific charism, would band together to live out a life according to the evangelical counsels of Christ. Other examples of different forms of communal life include hospital orders, devoted to taking care of those in physical need (i.e. Order of St. John of God), and Institutes, such as the Society of Jesus.
What are the vows/evangelical counsels, which are undertaken in religious life? Let us very briefly examine them.
Jesus said to those to wished to follow him, “Sell everything you have, and come follow me.” Taking the vow of poverty means detaching yourself from material goods. Personal possession is surrendered and the person learns to depend for his daily bread through the head of community to which they are joined. This mirrors Jesus in His total dependency on the Father for his daily needs. We cannot serve both God and man. This does not mean that all possessions are evil. It is how they are used, and how we are disposed to them that matter. How many people are slaves to their vehicles, or homes, computers, and assorted toys for the large and small alike? Poverty frees us to create and foster a spirit of dependence on the goods and graces that our Heavenly father, through the Church and respective community gives to us. We are freed to carry out more important tasks, such as prayer and charity.
Within religious life, the vow of chastity means that one gives up marriage and the fruits it bears, for the kingdom of Heaven. A person can be fruitful, and produce good works, and deeds in a manner different than in holy matrimony. Mind, body, and spirit are directed away from the pleasures, and fecundity of the material, to be open to that which is spiritual.
Those bound to religious vows willingly submit to the authority of their local ordinary, such as the head of an order, their local superior, abbot or abbess. We emulate the obedience of Christ to His Father. For Christ was obedient unto death, death upon a cross. So too those who have chosen this way of life, cheerfully undertake their crosses under the guidance and direction of those lawfully appointed over them.