Religious life will survive into the future as people continue to search for ways to seek God and help their neighbour, but what it will look like is uncertain, said Sister Clare Condon, Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, at a Sydney forum to mark the Year of Consecrated Life.
“I believe that there is a future for religious life,” Clare said. “What it will look like I am not at all sure. Religious life has had many phases and re-births over the centuries.”
Clare was one of four religious women and men to speak at the forum which was hosted by Church Resources in partnership with Catholic Religious Australia, Australian Catholic University, and Catholic Church Insurances. She joined Charity Sister Margaret Beirne, Marist Brother Greg McDonald and Jesuit Father David Braithwaite on the speakers’ panel. Mercy Sister Denise Fox moderated the discussion.
Looking back over her life as a religious, Clare said her period of discernment was marked by a desire to seek God in a more intimate and contemplative way. Over the last century in Australia, social need was also often a fundamental motivator for joining a religious apostolic community.
“I believe what is happening in a society does influence greatly the decisions people make. I can’t see religious life going backwards to a restoration time, as some would believe and hope. The values and charisms will live on, but in ways relevant to the new world order,” she said.
Brother Greg McDonald, who first encountered the Marist Brothers as a boarder at St Gregory’s Campbelltown, said the Marists remain committed to working with the young, but are finding themselves in new ministry situations, according to the current needs, new ways of living in community, and a deeper collaboration with lay people who are committed to the Marist charism.
“I believe the Lord wants religious life to continue in some shape or form, because he lived it himself – poor, chaste and obedient. I pray that all of us, religious men and women continue to find new ways of moving forward, so that together we can serve God and the Church by being witnesses of God’s love and mercy.”
Sister Margaret Beirne said that after 50 years as a Sister of Charity, she has never doubted her religious vocation or her commitment as a disciple of Jesus, and she urged those present to embrace the future with hope.
“So, what of the future for consecrated life in this country? I’d like to suggest that among other considerations we absolutely must engage with, listen to and be prepared to be challenged and even changed by young people in the 25 to 45 age group. In particular we need to ask the question, painful as it might be, ‘what is missing in Australian apostolic religious congregations that young people, especially women, are looking elsewhere?’
“There are great challenges ahead, but faith and the long history of religious life point to the ever fresh ways in which God has constantly drawn religious into more authentic ways of being.”
Father David Braithwaite, who works with young people, said they often find the teachings of the Church unintelligible and that to many, religious life has lost its cultural logic – “it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t make sense as part of the tapestry of their life”.
“But I believe it’s not over, because there will always be this desire of some young people to give themselves to this call to radical commitment with the Jesuits.”
Each of the panellists referred to the encouragement they have received from Pope Francis, in both his own way of living and his call for religious to “wake up the world” and to live the joy of the Gospel.
Similar forums are to be held in Melbourne on Tuesday, May 19 and in Brisbane, Tuesday June 16.