Religious Life Today and Into the Future

Illustration from the America article.
For the record, I own one of these t-shirts.
My friend Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA has an amazing article in the current issue of America Magazine titled "Changed, Not Ended: A View of Religious Life from a Young Sister." I know Julia through Giving Voice, a group regular readers of the blog should be very familiar with. Giving Voice is a network of younger women religious, an opportunity for us to connect across congregations with our religious life age peers, to pray, reflect, have fun, and share our hopes, dreams, desires and experiences of this amazing yet counter-cultural way of life.

For the past few years, I have been honored to be part of the peer-leadership of Giving Voice. This has given me a real bird's eye view into the landscape of religious life, particularly as viewed from the horizon of younger women who have entered in the past 10-15 years.

While Julia is clear that she is writing from her own perspective, I must say that I resonate with so much of what she writes in this peace. For example:

About Giving Voice

  • "Hope is obvious at [every Giving Voice] gathering. "
  • "The collaboration and connections made possible through Giving Voice help us to keep saying yes to our vocations."
About living religious life today as a younger Sister
  • "I appreciate my experience as it is."
  • "This experience, of course, does have its challenges. As modern religious life—and its size—evolves, even the most hopeful and eager need to deal with practical consequences of transition. For me, the hardest element of the quickly shrinking population of my community is the regularity of death announcements."
  • "I love being a sister because I am permitted to be the best version of myself within a community of like-minded, prayerful women."
  • "The religious vows, prophetic in nature, free me to move to the edges and encounter God in new realms. This vocation creates opportunities to live a life of radical simplicity, solidarity and accompaniment with those who are oppressed."
  • "Being a sister has warped my perception of age. Even though I am [41 - Julia is] 32, I feel as if anyone under 60 is my peer. That said, my experience of intergenerational communal living is energizing. I gain wisdom from my elder sisters; I am enriched by what they have lived through. I am humbled to know we young sisters are receiving their legacy."

About the future of religious life
  • "Some people, focused almost exclusively on numbers, are concerned that religious life is in decline. This narrows our ability to see what God is doing."
  • "Religious life is not in decline; it is simply changing. And it should change. New paradigms of religious life can emerge only if we are open to God changing us beyond our limited imagining and dreaming. We need to remember that numbers do not make communities. In fact, I prefer to be part of a community that feels more like a family than an institution. The freer and more open we are, the better we can live the Gospel according to God’s vision and not our own ideas. We can experience the freedom to have meaningful conversations about “right-sizing” and new forms of ministry. We acknowledge it can be life-giving for the size of community to decrease; lower numbers can open up new opportunities for healthy, intimate relationships." [I LOVE this entire paragraph and will be borrowing the term 'right-sizing']
  • "I am not worried about changes in religious life; I am excited. I trust that God is up to something amazingly good. I believe that God is helping religious life evolve to meet the changing needs of society. "
And I LOVE and affirm her last sentence: "Thank God, by grace, we are in this together."

Thank you Julia for articulating so well what religious life looks like from the horizon of those in our 20s, 30s, or 40s.  

For any of you reading this who might be thinking that maybe possibly God might be calling you to this wonderful crazy life ... come on in, the water's fine! Seriously though, if anyone has any vocation or religious life related questions, my email box is always open. The address is in the side bar.

I may not know what the future of religious life will look like, but I know there are incredible needs in our world, powerful and prayerful women on the journey, and a loving God who is calling us into the future. Trust. Love. Risk. Live. Together!

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