I was reading a blog entry recently about vocations that compared and contrasted traditional orders and those that radically changed after Vatican II. I thought that I would offer my own ideas on this article and a commentary on what I have seen from both ends of the spectrum.
First of all, I believe that Vatican II alone is not to blame for the vocations crisis in the Church today. The Council came during the turbulent period of time known as the 1960s. During this time, almost everything was turned upside down in the United States and around the world. It was this decade that saw the emergence of the drug culture, the women’s liberation movement, the anti-war protests, and the sexual revolution. All of these things combined to produce a crisis from whcih we are still recovering to this very day.
I once read a book by author Lucy Kaylin that stressed how much Catholic nuns were impacted by the events going on during this period of time. Sisters who had once found themselves in the classroom and among the poor. Yet with the 1960s, the emphasis in many religious orders changed. The classroom may still have been a part of the lives of the nuns, but it also became many also were involved in the social justice movement. Some of them embraced causes ranging from the Vietnam war to radical feminism to gay and lesbian rights. These new ideas caused ruptures in communities that have endured to the present day. And in some of these communities, new vocations are few and far between indeed.
Yet with these sea changes, there has also come a reaction. Today, there are many women’s religious orders that exist to perpetuate a traditional way of life. Carmelite nuns around the country continue to live in the contemplative spirit of St. Teresa of Avila, wear full length habits, and have large grills that are beauty to behold. The Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, is a relative young congregation that is bursting at the seams with new vocations as are the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church. In all of these cases, the young women come and stay because they see the sisters living a life that is so utterly different from that of other less conservative religious congregations. It is a life that is very much out of the lives of St. Teresa of Avila and Mother Cabrini. A life that has changed little for hundreds of years.
Male congregations also experienced a great deal of change following the Council. The Jesuits, founded by St. Ignatius Loyola to defend the Church and her interests, suddenly became proponents of the modernism that they had fought against for so many years. Today, the Jesuits speak a great deal about the “Ignatian ideal” and yet I wonder what St. Ignatius would think of his sons if he were to come back and meet them today. Would he be prowd of what they are doing now or would he be downright livid?
Yet the Jesuits are not alone. Many of the major men’s orders have changed and yet there is a great deal of hope. The Dominicans seem to be doing much better than they were not that long ago. Perhaps, some of this can be attributed to more orthodox teaching in their seminaries and a great deal of emphasis on orthodox theology. Fr. Vincent Serpa, OP, is a great example of the new breed of Dominicans. Although he has been on the block for years, he is a true son of St. Dominic.
Here again, we see the contrast between liberal and conservative orders. The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal live a life of radial witness to Our Lord. It is a life that is modeled on the Capuchin way of life and yet it is a life that is still lived in a traditional spirit. Young men are attracted to this life among the poor and dispossessed of the world because they see themselves serving Christ in others. Among the Carmelites of Wyoming, young men go to test themselves and to live a life of silence, work, prayer, and reflection. Both of these lives are difficult and yet young men come and join because they see an authentic religious life being lived by men that are dedicated to their call.
One often wonders whether these bastions of tradition will win out in the end and whether we will see a complete restoration of the 1950s. I personally do not believe that this is possible in our own day and age. We have seen too much damage done and we are only starting to recover. Yet we must continue to hope that God will continue to bless us with good priests and religious as well as prelates, who will promote religious life and vocations in their dioceses rather than hinder it.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!