Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Reflecting on religious life

I got out of the habit of blogging, and now it is hard to return! But I am finally back in my own home, and adjusting to a new summer schedule. So here's to blogging, once again!

I had a wonderful 3 weeks of travel, to California (both northern and southern) and to St. Louis, Missouri. I was fortunate to be able to attend the Jesuit ordinations in St. Louis--what a powerful ceremony. It was really a wonderful journey for me, and it helped me to see some things about religious life that I hadn't noticed before.

One of my concerns lately has been the question: how does living as a woman religious in today's world really contribute to the church? If we (women) can't be ordained, then what is the use of becoming part of the institution, so to speak?

I guess I struggle with this because I don't really understand the reasons for keeping women from priesthood to begin with (but that is another story for another time). Yes, I know what the church teaches, and I accept it for the sake of union, but it just doesn't make logical sense to me.

There is a second reason why I struggle with this issue: I believe that I do contribute to the church. I teach Catholic theology, and I feel that this is a gift that God has given to me, that I then share with the church. So, why become a nun? How does that make any difference at all? I mean, I contribute without being a nun, so what does it matter if my lifestyle is different?

I still don't know the answer. But watching the four men who were ordained Jesuits in St. Louis helped me to see that ordination for them does not define their service to the world. These are men who have lived religious life for over a decade each, and ordination (it seems to me) is simply another step of their formation and their life. It's not meaningless, but it also isn't what defines them in their lives as religious. They did not become Jesuits solely to be priests (if they did, they surely would have chosen something with a shorter formation program!), but their priesthood is part of a greater contribution to the Catholic world.

Maybe that's the distinction I need to see also. I do not want to become a nun to serve the church, per se, but to serve the world and the human beings who live in it. It's not about an institution, but rather it's about sharing God's love with people!

So while I don't really have an answer to my question, I have a better understanding of the value of religious life. It offers me a way to live that makes it easier to serve the world in a bigger way than I can on my own. That's certainly not the whole of it, but at least I feel like I've understood another little bit.