It is not the policy of this blog to comment on the current difficulties being experienced by the Catholic church in Ireland - it is best left to other commentators. But, it would also be foolish for this blog not to comment on the crisis as it relates particularly to vocations. Put simply, the ongoing crisis of such proportion that it impacts very negatively on anyone considering a vocation to religious life or priesthood today. But, in the midst of it all, we need desperatley to consider the importance of ongoing call of God - who calls in good times and bad.
The church that we know and love has somehow survived these past two thousand years despite the actions of the sinners, like you and me, who have been part of it. The church will continue to survive hopefully a lot wiser and humbler - as a result of the transgressions of its leaders and followers.
The church and its people are not just survivors who grit their teeth in the face of either internal turmoil or external opposition. The church doesn't just survive - it lives. It lives because Jesus Christ lives in and through the church. In the midst of this present crisis we must humbly admit that we are the recipients of the graciousness and unconditional love of Jesus Christ who promised never to abandon his disciples: "And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time." (Matthew 28:10) The church has existed and lived these 2000 years because of God's grace manifested through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
During these dark days I am often reminded of the words of Blessed John Paul II in Toronto during a World Youth Day event when he addressed the young people saying: "At difficult moments in the church's life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent. And holiness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Spirit......We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son."
While many might argue that this is the worst time ever to consider a religious vocation, I see it as the most desirable time to discern life as a sister, brother, nun, priest and indeed Dominican. Here's a few reasons:
Firstly, God continues to call and invite people to a life of service and community, especially when the church faces and unprecedented crisis like the one we presently face. Our history proves this. In the middle of the great injustices of the Spanish Inquisition God called St Teresa of Avila to a life of mysticism and ultimately of reform of her Carmelite order; Saint Francis had a dream of rebuilding God's house and in response chose to live a life of radical simplicity through simplicity, prayer and penance - in stark contrast to the wealth and corruption of the twelfth century church. A couple of hundred years later when there was unrest in the church and a divided papacy Saint Catherine of Siena responded to God's call to live the Dominican life and later became a mediator for peace and the reunification of the papacy.
The church still benefits from the virtue of these heroic men and women and the many more like them who heard God's call and invitation to live a radical Gospel life in the midst of a church in turmoil. I am confident that with the help of God's grace that we will be telling similar stories in the future of today's heroic men and women who responded to the challenges of religious life.
Another reason to consider a religious vocation is that our church needs the creativity, idealism, faith and spirituality of a new generation. In the midst of our crisis the poor in our world continue to suffer from a lack of education, healthcare, social services. In a culture that suffers from inequalities, violence and disregard for human life, people need to hear the prophetic message of justice, peace and dignity. And in the middle of the crisis that the church now faces, people more than any other time in history need to hear the Gospel preached.
One further reason: the church needs more than just service. In a society that glamourises wealth, sex, power and money the church needs the continued witness of young people (and not so young) who are willing to give their all for holiness by living a life of chastity, obedience and poverty. Because we are a sacramental church we need priests to preach the Word with integrity and minister in times of joy and pain with sensitivity. When the world is plagued by polarization and division we need the hope for the Christian community that is inspired by people who come together to live and share their faith, values and mission.
By considering a religious vocation, there is nothing to lose. Why? Because all vocations are oriented towards holiness and a deepening of a relationship with God. I would continue to encourage people to consider religious life for the sheer joy that it can bring. Of course there are challenges and sacrifices but there is a deep consolation in knowing that you are following God's will or plan for you and that you are making a significant contribution to the life of the church and those that you live with and serve.
These are definitely trying times for the church especially in Ireland. But they are not the first, nor will they be the last. Keep on considering your vocation - and do not be afraid.