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osa 05*The title of this article is a song from the musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat” where Joseph pleads that the world is waiting for change and anyone’s dream can have the possibility for creating a new vision.

There are two important questions one would ask when practicing holistic health.  The first is the same as traditional western medicine: “What is wrong?” or “What is not working?” The second question that a holistic practitioner would ask is “What wants to happen?” Perhaps we can apply these same questions to religious life today as a Congregation.

In the United States we are experiencing the dying of quite a number of religious congregations, and we might reflect on: What is wrong? Why are congregations dying? What is not working? What is it that wants to happen?

osa 06S. Galgano, ItalyBefore we can begin to answer these questions, we need first the courage to admit that the dying process is happening. What many religious women have given has been an enormous gift to the people of God. It is difficult to accept that what we have lived and given so generously is not attractive as a vocational choice today for many women and men.

Religious life in the late twentieth century emerged declining from an earlier, now paradigm. Approximately up to the Second Vatican Council, our life was really very similar in most ways to that of our Foundress. The Second Vatican Council encouraged change. It seems to me, however, that we did not always adapt our way of living our vowed life to the culture of today. This may be the reason of our demise.  

In asking what is it that wants to happen, I believe that we are really asking how  we can re-found our Congregation so that what wants to happen can be expressed in new ways. Pope Francis on his visit to the United States strongly exhorted American Catholics to be unafraid of trying new things, even if they seem to threaten long practical traditions or existing Church structures. History itself suggests that a re-founded model is likely to be less canonical. It is not in opposition to the Church but rather speaks to a deeper commitment to the new Reign of God at the heart of the world. A possible re-founding can, in fact, carry that same creative and daring vision that characterized many of the original founding endeavors.

osa 02Being open to re-founding one’s Congregation includes discerning wisdom and the skills to understand the cultural transformation of our times. It needs the spark of the Spirit through which a dying group can find a creative response. We  need to discern afresh what wants to happen in living religious life today in the twenty-first century. Perhaps like Joseph, we need some dreaming to dare to envision what a re-founding could look like. Is it possible to honestly begin to look at what is not working? What is happening to religious life in the United States and in many other western countries will also someday be happening in other countries, even though they may still be experiencing new vocations.

I offer these thoughts out of love for our charism of healing, and I hope that we can begin to consider some options for creating a new form of religious life suited to the twenty-first century.

Sr. Joanne Schuster, SFP

Published: February, 3, 2016