Adaptation and renewal of Religious Life: A return to the sources of Christian life Print
Reflections on Religious Life
Thursday, May. 14, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Reflections on Religious Life column by Abbot Marcel RooneyEditor’s note: During this Year of Consecrated Life, this is the fourth in a series based on the Second Vatican Council’s document, Perfectae Caritatis (Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life) written by Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB, former abbot primate of the Benedictine order who now resides in Madison.

When the Second Vatican Council called for the renewal of Religious Life, it was not speaking primarily about the externals which characterized that life, such as the Religious habit to be worn, the living arrangements of communities and individuals, etc.

Rather, from the outset, the council was concerned about the deeply interior renewal of this special sign of the Church’s life.

Thus, in chapter two of the council's Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life, the council Fathers urged a "return to the sources of all Christian life."

Appraising their lives

That means, first of all, the all Religious were being pressed to make a new appraisal of their lives in the light of God's Word in the Holy Scriptures.

Instead of being guided merely by the commands of the Church's canon law, it would be necessary to test and appraise both structures and formation of Religious Life by the divine Word, especially as proclaimed in and by Jesus, but also throughout the writings of both Old and New Testaments.

Christian life to be authentic needs to reflect the mind and heart of Jesus (cf. Phil. 2) or else it will inevitably be pressured by and then overwhelmed by merely natural feelings as well as by secular thinking and events.

For example, a Catholic who does not experience that going to Holy Mass on Sundays is a real expression of his/her relationship with Jesus -- in gratitude for the salvation which He brought through His death and resurrection, in petition for His love and grace to transform family and work life on a daily basis -- a Catholic who does not make the sacred liturgy personal prayer rather than mere fulfillment of a legal obligation, will soon find it easy to miss Holy Mass on Sunday if it conflicts with a game of his/her favorite football team.

Getting closer to Jesus

Similarly, a person who has vowed to follow Christ in the Religious Life will soon find it boring and tedious if that life does not express in graphic detail a deeply personal relationship with Jesus and the other Persons of the Holy Trinity.

It would be good to think of a central example of the expression of Religious Life to see what the council was getting at. Let us take the praying of the Divine Office, the Liturgy of the Hours, as that example.

A Religious goes to public prayer daily, and a great deal of that prayer is taken up with the reciting or singing of the Old Testament Psalms and listening to readings of Sacred Scripture from both testaments.

To make this repetitive daily exercise meaningful and spiritually enlivening, one must get beyond the externals of such prayer, laying aside anything which would impede making that prayer a genuine expression of personal union with God.

Some might object that the ancient Psalms are too "patriarchal" in nature -- an objection which often comes when one has been deeply affected by the contemporary secular political and feminist agenda -- rather than hearing the deeper content which expresses God’s intense and perduring love for all of us as a father and mother love the children that have been God's blessing to them.

Similarly, the music used with the Psalms may leave one's spirit cold and empty. Yet, real prayer from the heart can still go on, no matter that problem of the external expression of the texts.

When the council wants vowed Religious to look at their lives from the viewpoint of the sources of the faith and tradition which have been handed down to us, it simply wants them to get closer to Jesus, Who called them in the first place.

In any relationship, love can grow old and grow cold, can become superficial and empty of meaning, because it has not been tended as a precious gift but rather taken for granted for some time.

Returning to the source

Renewing any intimate relationship means renewing the love which was the foundation for that original union. Renewing Religious Life will, then, depend on renewing the love which first drew a person to that life, and which governs the way one's life is ordered on a daily basis.

Indeed, as other documents of the Second Vatican Council state, the renewal of the entirety of Christian life -- clerical, lay, and Religious -- means getting back to the source of that life, union with God through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit.

Such a return is bound to lead to renewal, the rebirth which faith must constantly lead to and which alone will make the Church a vibrant witness to Jesus in the world today.


Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB, is president of the Orate Institute of Sacred Liturgy, Music, and Art. The institute is dedicated to the renewal of the sacred liturgy in our churches and other Catholic institutions. If its work would be helpful in your parish, call 608- 203-6735.