Sunday, July 09, 2006

Religious Associates or Associate Religious? -- Meanings Beyond Words

After Mass today, I was sitting perusing an "old" print copy of The National Catholic Reporter and a letter to the editor written by Suzanne Anison Thiel caught my attention (April 7, 2006). Responding to a February edition somewhat focused on priesthood and religious life that made minimal or no mention of Associate Programs, she writes, in part:

Have religious orders and their charisms become so stagnant, withered almost to extinction, that they are forced to mergers? Or is there not an evolution taking place enriched by the Spirit, with new kinds of life emerging in associate programs?

I am not suggesting that the Association Movement is a total replacement for religious life but a re-expression that modern women and some men are looking for. Religious life must continue to adopt a model of mutual companionship between the consecreated and the lay person. It must look at new and creative forms of membership and not rely on the old. Together, the religious and the associate can develop a powerful 'new religious life' that will contnue to be a prophetic voice and make a difference in the world. It would be refreshing to see some articles wirtten on religious congregations with new and viable associate programs. I am sure there are places for our young [and not so young, I'd add] ... adults if only we have the vision to develop new kinds of religious vocations."

While I don't necessarily agree with all of the author's statements as expressed, she raises some important and valuable questions, well worth our consideration. I have a few thoughts stirring but want to let them percolate a bit. In the meantime, feel free to share your responses to what she has proposed.


At 9:59 AM , Blogger Susan Rose, CSJP said...

I can't speak for all religious communities, or even really for mine. Rather, I can speak from my own experience which was epitomized by a gathering this weekend to discern our province's direction in the area of justice (which as you know is at the core of our charism).

There was me, the newest one day vowed member. There were 3 of our elder sisters in their 80s. There were a few "younger" sisters in their 50's & 60's. And there were four associates, one of whom was a man and one of whom is a Lutheran woman.

It was such a rich discernment .... we went far beyond discussion. Later I found myself amazed and thankful at how inclusive we are with our Associates, at as a result at how much richer and stronger we are.

As a younger vocation, part of what gives me hope and helps me know it will be ok even as the numbers of vowed members decline due to age is the life and vitality that comes from our Associates. The Holy Spirit is definitely at work!

At 5:06 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Groovy Sisters also have an active Assoicate program. I agree with Susan that it speaks to a living, active element in the congregation. There are Catholics and non-catholics, men and women, married, single, divorced, and gay people. It's a very inclusive and active group and I am amazed the more I learn about how committed to the congregation and the larger Order that this group has become in just about 10-15 years of existence. If for some reason I don't actually become vowed with this community, you can bet I will seek out Associate membership in some capacity instead.

At 12:57 AM , Blogger Steph Crane said...

I felt called to the become an associate to the Sisters of St. Joseph after I got to know their charism. Unity, all inclusive love, and love of dear neighbor. In my twenties I had entered the Ursuline community, but I chose to leave to help care for an older sister befallen by a severe and persistent mental illness. After she passed away I was in my forties and I had some health problems preventing me to reenter community.

I still felt called to an order and so a third order seemed where God was calling me to live in the world as a religious, but not in community. Hence, I call my blog, Third Orders. I am glad that the CSJ's have developed an associate formation program.


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