Religious life: Prophetic or Professional?

Light of truth

P. A. Chacko, S. J.

Religious life in the Church is a call that challenges men and women to walk the radical way. It is a consecrating invitation to face existential challenges of the common man and womanby being a part of their struggle prophetically. Hence, it is apostolic. You are an apostle of the Master. He announced at his inaugural session: I have come that they may have life, life in abundance. (Jn. 10:10.) Hence, it is a call to announce life and denounce the lack of it in the lives of struggling humanity.

Your vows of chastity, obedience and poverty are means to follow the Master radically. In the Master’s footsteps in a radical way!One does not join a religious life to become a saint. You can equally get groomed as a saint at your post in the family way. You join to walk with the Master the radical way as a religious. And, when you have crossed the desert, you will hear his consoling words: ‘I have carried you on my shoulders across the desert.’

If the response to the call is radical, there is no turning back to become a salt statue like Lot’s wife. If you stumble and fall on the way, you get up like Peter the penitent and cry like a child. If you still carry on stubbornly and hold on to the purse strings of your ego like Judas, you pay for your non-accountability.

Religious life is not a profession. It does not carry fringe benefit of career promotion or perks for overtime. If you happen to be a teacher, professor or principal, the salary you get is not to go into your private wallet. It is part of the community fund. Nor can you exercise a freelance use by funnelling it to your relatives or friends.

Once you happen to be a principal or provincial, do not think that you are slated for a kick up for a ‘higher’ post. Sometimes, common people or even good educatedCatholics ask: How is that, Father, you have been teaching for so many years why you never became a principal? Or, a provincial? Or, how come, one junior to you became a bishop? They may be airing out their queries out of ignorance or provoked by the way of the world.

But, unfortunately, there can be even some religious men and women who may have entered the religious life nursing mixed feelings or ulterior motives or without knowing well what they were opting for. Was it because of the granny’s fervent vow that there should sprout a religious nun in the family? Or, because the dad found it difficult to look at the seventh girl child in a compassionate way? Or, for the prospect of glamorous posts in religious life that could be opted for? Such aspirants may go through their religious formation with a myopic vision. Even astute counsellors or experienced spiritual fathers can be bowled over by put-on shows or external behaviour of such people.

When such people with mixed motivation come out of the formation cocoon, the antenna of their ambition begins to work. Prayer becomes an unavoidable penance. Grumbling becomes a routine affair. The apostolate given to you becomes tasteless. Your performance takes a nosedive. You my even look for extra-territorial loyalties.Some salivating fringe benefits from some dignitaries.Depression sets in. You cannot tolerate any more. You never cared to confide in a community friend or share with your superior. You hid things in your closet! You may even grumble against the superior. He or she does not understand, you mumble all the way!

You may have developed a hunch against those in authority in general and look at them with a coloured glass. So, wherever you are sent, the superior is a threat to you. Then may begin backbiting and shadow boxing. You say the superiors have made your life a hell. You jump from convent to convent or one community to another looking for the green patch. And lick your wounds!

If you with your lack of religious motivation happen to hold a high post as a principal, pride becomes your walking stick. Like the Indian police khaki uniform, your walking stick becomes your soul mate, your ‘aadhar card,’ your bedfellow, your all-in-all. You may want to hold on to the purse strings of your salary by arguing that you earned it by your profession. You can do with it in whatever way you want, you think. Your post as principal is a powerful one. Hence, you don’t care a hoot for the community superior.

And, then, one fine morning, lo and behold, you opt to get out by crying foul. You say the world is against you. Or, out of fear of family honour, you don’t ship out, but rot inside. If the superiors tell you to go for discernment retreat to know whether to shape up or ship out, you say it is their problem. Unfortunately, many harbour ill will, hatred, and anger towards the congregation or the church and begin to air out after leaving. One hears a variety of public statements of nuns or religious men who have left. Many such statements go viral on the social media or print media as there are forces out there to grab you and use you for propaganda purposes. They will sponsor your channel appearances or offer to publish your life story in book form. Or some such gimmicks in order to put the church or the congregation in bad picture.

Some who are not happy with their superiors or their way of life, sweat and fret inside their habit and become a sort of rebels by airing their grievances publicly. Media outfits, channel vultures and certain communal forces are waiting out there eagerly to embrace you, garland you, and sponsor you for their private urge for public commercial performance. Cunningly, they revive your drooping spirit by energising it with the repacked ‘Horlicks’ promising you an instant ego boost.You feel glorious about the news flash and broadcast of your public appearances! That is where some people ask why don’t you have the courage to slip out of your old habits and don genuine lay out fits and live the way you want with a newfound freedom.

These are dangerous times. We are witnessing politics conniving to become a bedfellow with religion. Communal and inimical forces conspire to influence the religious way of life and activities for creating confusion in society. Hunger for power and pelf also can mark the face of religion or religious communities. By yielding to such trends and tendencies, influences and provocations, one is cutting the root of one’s prophetic commitment to the Master.

If you are not happy with the religious way of life, either because of your frustration or because of your feeling of incapacity, or because you think the rules of the congregation are a burden for you, for God’ sake, have the honesty to say ‘good bye’ and live an honest life without rancour or frustration. Leave the congregation in one piece and you live the way you want as a free bird outside the precincts of your cocooned life. Honesty will pay rich dividends in the final analysis.

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