Consecrated life does not mean that nuns and brothers are less sociable than other people
Dominican sisters take their final vows on July 30 in Bien Hoa. (Photo: giaophanxuanloc.net)
Humans are gregarious animals, which means they have a dire need to communicate with a certain community. And the religious are no exception.
The peculiarities of the consecrated life mean men and women have to give up or limit some relationships. The most typical example is that they are banned from living a married life, and their social ties with people of the opposite sex or of the same sex must also be within limits.
However, this does not mean that nuns and brothers are less sociable than other people.
Their gregariousness is expressed in their relationships with their families, confreres in communities and outsiders.
The family gives them solid support to peacefully live a consecrated life. The more they are emotionally attached to their family, the easier it is to give their tender hearts to other people since the family is the place where they go through the experiences of loving and being loved.
There is no shortage of religious who do not want to return home or even think about their families. They could possibly hold a negative view about religious life, thinking that once they enter convents, they must give up everything, especially their families and close relatives.
"In terms of relationships, religious orders are likened to second families of religious, and community life occupies a crucial role in religious life"
The best solution to clearing up that misunderstanding is to call on them to contemplate the depiction of Jesus, the perfect example of religious. Remembering that the one who followed Jesus to Golgotha and comforted his disciples during the time of panic was none other than Mary, the biological mother of Jesus.
Another clear reason why some religious want to cut ties with their families is that they still suffer psychological wounds that have not been healed. They might have been abused by their loved ones in some way, or their families are fraught with serious problems so they manage to avoid or share responsibilities.
Whatever reasons they have, if they have troubled relationships with their families, it is very difficult for them to find peace and happiness in their religious life.
In terms of relationships, religious orders are likened to second families of religious, and community life occupies a crucial role in religious life.
After all, it is their confreres, not immediate families, who accompany religious until the end of their consecrated life. In reality, most religious abandon their vocations on account of conflicts in communities or disagreements with their superiors.
Admittedly, community life is an enormous challenge for men and women religious, who are not free to choose to live with persons they love. Contrariwise, they are called on to love those with whom they are made to live, and sometimes those persons are not lovable at all.
It can be said that community life is a test to show whether religious really follow Jesus or live in accordance with the Gospel’s spirit. It is clearly wrong with those who want to love others as Jesus loved but cannot love the persons in the same house.
Therefore, it would be a big mistake for religious to try to seek solace in other relationships other than brotherly or sisterly love in their communities.
"Gone are the days when people thought that only what was inside religious houses was holy and moral, and everything outside was sinful and immoral"
An elderly priest said: “I wish you would treat your confreres the same way you treat outsiders.” This emphasizes the unity of the emotional life of religious. Religious with kind hearts must be open to everyone, among them the closest people are their brothers or sisters in communities.
It is easy for religious to love their family members because they are their blood relatives, and it is not difficult to love outsiders who usually love, respect and please them. However, loving the brothers or sisters in their communities correctly reflects their consecrated love.
Religious are like other people when it comes to working relationships with their friends. Gone are the days when people thought that only what was inside religious houses was holy and moral, and everything outside was sinful and immoral.
It is true that religious must restrict themselves to some social relationships, and they are not free to go anywhere or meet any whom they want. However, religious regulations are not intended to eliminate the sociability of religious because it is inhumane. On the contrary, they are the necessary conditions that help religious live out their gregariousness in a healthy way and bear more spiritual fruit.
Some nuns and brothers are quite fortunate in having close confidantes who are lay people, to whom they can open up and share their joys, sorrows and even weaknesses.
A social relationship in itself is neither good nor bad, simply because it is a basic human need. A relationship only becomes good or bad depending on what we aim for.
"Mature religious know how to show their gregariousness according to the nature of the consecrated life"
In the era of information technology, the fences of monasteries cannot prevent religious from connecting with the outside world, but their connections are done easily and maintained secretly. The internet and social networks become indispensable channels for them to satisfy their sociability.
It would not be a big problem if their connections do not adversely affect the way they treat the people they daily meet face-to-face. Community meals are no longer for intimate conversation among community members because they occupy their minds with interesting news and unanswered messages on smartphones.
Going out together is no longer an opportunity for them to strengthen solidarity with one another since they are busy taking photos to post. Charity work and apostolic ministries no longer aim at giving love to people in need because beneficiaries are just the characters of photos that attract a lot of interaction on social networking sites of religious.
In short, the sociability of the religious needs to be taken into account and reinforced. Mature religious know how to show their gregariousness according to the nature of the consecrated life.
They are not only "people of God" but also "people of all people," so their all relationships are precious and worthy of respect, whether they are built through face-to-face or online meetings.
The consecrated life helps religious to be grown up holistically, not strangling their God-given qualities and abilities, especially gregariousness. May religious feel inner freedom in all their relationships, so that they can live peacefully, thrive in the consecrated life, and spread love of service through all who come into contact with them.
Joseph Le Dac Thang is a Jesuit in Vietnam. This article was summarized and translated by a UCA News reporter from a Vietnamese article published by dongten.net here. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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