Awkward Questions for an Awkward Feast

Anyone who remembers my 2011 post on today’s feast of the Holy Family (which you can read here, if you wish) will know that my ambivalence about it doesn’t allow me to sidestep its awkwardness. Indeed, it is because it is for me an awkward feast that I have to work at it each year. For once I am almost glad I cannot go to Mass today. The thought of hearing yet another homily on the idealised home life of Nazareth might send me shrieking from the pews!

This morning I have been reflecting instead on a question posed by a reader of a recent post on Consecrated Life. He said that many lay people feel the Year of Consecrated Life has nothing to do with them, yet they would like to be able to contribute to it. Had I any advice to give? Now, the first point to note is the ecclesiological understanding of my reader. For him consecrated life is as much a part of the Church as his own vocation as husband and father or that of the priest. For many people today that simply isn’t true. We have moved on from the view that all religious are the best of saints/the worst of sinners to one where, by and large, they are invisible. They no longer feature in most people’s ideas about the Church except insofar as they provide a little local colour on the streets of Rome or in the occasional retro movie. The notion that religious vocations are as real as any other and that they start where all other vocations start, in the life of the family, is increasingly alien.

So, perhaps we could begin by thinking about this feast as an invitation to reflect on how the family is both the origin of our membership of the Church (we have to be born to be baptised) and our individual vocation within it. Then we might go on to think about the way in which vocation changes over time, and the demands that makes on us. We are not always children. We grow up, work, marry and have children (most of us), then experience widowhood, etc. Yet membership of the Church remains a constant, even if it is at arm’s length some of the time.

Where religious vocation is concerned, I think it important to stress that more than prayer is needed. If we genuinely believe in the value of consecrated life, then it is up to us to ensure that it is known about. How many parishes, for example, have invited local religious to talk about their vocation or have arranged visits to their houses to see and experience for themselves how religious live (as distinct from how they think religious live)? How many have addressed the difference between lifelong commitment and the intern approach that has become popular of late? In short, how many ordinary families living their ordinary parish life have made the connection with consecrated life that the Year of Consecrated Life seeks to promote, and how many have seen it as a natural part of their ordinary family life? We used to call this ‘fostering religious vocations’. Why have we become reluctant to do so? Is it because, deep down, we don’t really believe in the value of consecrated life? If so, I think we may have some even harder questions to address.

I am aware that I am saying nothing new, but if it encourages even one person to think slightly outside the box on the subject of family, it will have been worthwhile. Have a lovely day!

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