Why Should Religious Get Up in the Morning?

By MacKinnon, Mary Heather | National Catholic Reporter, February 19, 1993 | Go to article overview

Why Should Religious Get Up in the Morning?


MacKinnon, Mary Heather, National Catholic Reporter


A member of my religious congregation recently told me she has stopped reading her community mail. This woman has been known internationally for her vision and leadership in religious life since Vatican II. As we talked about religious life, she declared with passion: "I am so weary of questionnaires, surveys and statistical reports about the future of religious life. I want to know why you get up in the morning! I want to know what you believe, what is important to you and why you love to do what you do!

During the last few weeks, my friend's words have stayed with me while I've read several books that examine the future of Roman Catholic religious life: Out of Chaos: Refounding Religious Congregations, by Gerald A Arbuckle (Paulist Press, 1988); Living the Vision: Religious Vows in an Age of Change, by Barbara Mand (Crossroad, 1990); Reweaving Religious Life: Beyond the Liberal Model, by Mary Jo Leddy (Twenty-third Publications, 1991); Religious Life, A Prophetic Vision: Hope and Promise for Tomorrow, by Diarmuid O'Murchu (Ave Maria Press, 1991); and Creating A Future for Religious Life: A Sociological Perspective, by Patricia Wittherg (Paulist Press, 1991).

Each book discusses the critical identity, existence and meaning questions that face all religious communities today, and each writer offers a unique analysis of the future of religious life from a different perspective: Arbuckle from cultural anthropology, Fiand from philosophical theology, Leddy from cultural history and sociology, O'Murchu from social psychology, and Wittberg from sociological group theory.

I found many insights that resonated with my early experiences as a member of a large international women's congregation, which I entered from high school in 1963. In addition, the authors spoke clearly about my experience of the critical transformations that have occurred in religious life in the last three decades since Vatican II. What failed to satisfy me in most of the books I read, however, were the writers' reflections on the future reality of religious life.

No one writer seemed to resonate fully with important new experiences in my life. In the fall of 1983, I began teaching in England in a senior girls'day and boarding school founded by our congregation during World War II.

Before England, all my ministry experience was as an elementary and highschool teacher in Roman Catholic schools in Ontario, Canada. All my students had been baptized in the Roman Catholic tradition, and all students had some shared faith experience of this tradition from their homes, school and/or parish life. This was true, too, of the teachers with whom I worked.

My experience in England was dramatically different. Only a few colleagues were Roman Catholic, and I had entire classes of students who had never been baptized into any Christian tradition. Students originated from around the globe. There were representatives of most of the world's great religious traditions; however, the great majority had no community or shared faith experiences outside of this particular school context.

As the teacher of a designated Roman Catholic curriculum, I soon learned that I did not have a common religious language and heritage with those around me. Ministry experiences since my return to Canada in 1986 continue to awaken in me an appreciation of cultural and religious diversity. The world around me is not the white, Western, Roman Catholic or Christian context I experienced for many years.

At the same time, I have gained new respect for the uniqueness and universality of religious experience, which seems to have a broader horizon than the perspective of any one culture or religious tradition.

As I read each of the books considered in this article, I looked to find a basic worldview that situated the present and future of religious life in the context of the multicultural and multifaith reality of our globe. …

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