Religious Life ... A Numbers Game?

There's been a lot bandied about of late about religious life and the women who follow Jesus through the vowed life.  In the midst of it all, there have been many blanket observations about women entering religious life these days.  As someone who is relatively new to religious life and still not entirely sure how God managed to break through all the noise to get me to listen to the wonderful possibility that this might be the life for me, I am particularly attuned to these conversations. I am so grateful of course that my gracious and crafty God did indeed lead me to this life.

The Holy Spirit is at work in our world in new and yet eternal ways.  This is very clear to me through my own lived experience, chock full of moments that can only be described as of God and carry the calling card of the Spirit.  If you look closely enough in your life, in the Church and in the world around you, I suspect you will see some of the fruits of the Spirit. Charity. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Generosity. Faithfulness. Modesty. Self-Control. Chastity.

One of my Sisters often says that the Holy Spirit is "sneaky."  This is a good description I think! Despite our best efforts to ignore the Spirit and be God ourselves, the Holy Spirit is there breathing new life into the world.

I was reflecting on this today as I read an article in the newest issue of America about vocations to religious life.  It is a very interesting report and reflection on a new study about recent vocations to religious life.  It affirms my experience that women are hearing the call and answering it.  Not in huge numbers, but they are coming both to communities that belong to LCWR and communities that belong to the CMSWR.  In other words, some women are attracted to a more "progressive" flavor of religious life.  Others are attracted to a more "traditional" flavor.  The study points out that in 2009 at least, this attraction led them to enter the two types of communities in relatively equal numbers. Yes, there are more communities of the first type and fewer of the second type.  This leads to several experiences and assumptions.

One the one hand, my experience of only a few younger women in each community of the LCWR flavor is a reality.  There are so many of these communities which represent roughly 80% of the 55,000 or so Sisters in the US today.  This is why my connections through Giving Voice are so important!  Each of us is drawn to the spirit and charism of our particular community, but we have more in common than anything that divides us.  On the other hand, the smaller number of communities that belong to CMSWR are receiving larger groups of younger women.  This leads to the observations by many I suspect that these are the only communities receiving vocations.  It's easier to see.

I made the mistake last night of reading some of the comments to the article online.  Folks are splitting hairs and getting into debates about what the numbers mean.  This caused me to reflect in prayer today, is religious life a numbers game?  Does the Holy Spirit work that way?  In my community I often joke it's about quality not quantity.  But there is so much truth to that.

I for one do not feel like playing the numbers game today. Instead, I am going to rejoice that so many are responding to God's call in whatever way the Spirit is calling them!  All vocations truly lived out with open hearts and a love of God and God's people are good in my book.


Unknown said...

Thank you for your reflections and steadiness of spirit.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the excellent posts

Silvana rscj said...

Greetings from a religious on the other side of the pond!

I do believe that 20 postulants in one motherhouse are more noticeable, and more photogenic/televisual than 20 postulants spread over 10 or 15 communities. But from what I see on the internet, it seems that only a few of the CMSWR congregations are receiving such large numbers. So what does that mean for the numbers game? Does it mean the rest of the CMSWR are less pleasing to God??? or - more likely - simply less able to engage in vocations ministry or advertise themselves?

Meanwhile here, in tiny England-Wales, we too are looking at numbers. When I entered in 1994 the average number pa was 25; this began to fall around 2000, and plummeted around 7 years ago, to only about 6. There was a lot of talk of RL having had its day and dying out in our country. But then, a few years ago numbers started rising again, and last year 17 women entered RL. Three of them joined my congregation, the Society of the Sacred Heart. They were our first candidates in almost 10 years, and came after a lot of hard work and prayer for vocations.

So in a few years we went from nil to a quarter of the year's intake for E-W with more to come. Why? And why us? Did the Spirit wander off for a few years, or have we gone in or out of favour?? I hope not, as that would make the Spirit even more fickle than we humans!

We humans need our numbers and analyses, to back up what we believe in. But the thoughts of God's Heart are beyond our comprehension, and certainly beyond our simplistic attempts at containing them. So, like you I choose to rejoice and draw energy from the fact that God does continue to call, and to attract, and that an increasing number of young women are saying yes to that compelling love.

Sorry if this is a long and rambling comment - but it isn't only new young sisters who are particularly attunded to these conversations!!

Susan Rose Francois, CSJP said...

Thanks for the comment silvana! I have some great rscj friends in the US. Happy to hear about your mini vocation boom. I spent three months with our uk csjp sisters when i was a novice. I spent one week at the intercongregational novitiate in buckden. We now have two women who have entered as candidates and hope to start the novitiate in london next month!

Sr Sian said...

As someone who has been youngest or thereabouts in my province community, for nearly 20 years, and a scientist by training I always worry when the number game is played. I think of all the work of the spirit carried out by a few in our early years as a congregation, as a young Church in colonial times, in the early years of the Church. God calls, people respond - religious have always filled a need and seem to have been called in the numbers required. With the openness of the Church to the baptism of all and the growing influence and role of laity maybe the number need is not as it was in 50s and 60s when opportunities to serve where found in different forms.
PS Had 10 wonderful years in RSCJ schools in NZ.