Posted on the 9th Jun 2018 in the category News

In the June 2018 edition of New Directions Br Steven Haws CR explains and advocates monastic life in the face of declining vocations


Most of our religious brothers and sisters today are  living out their vows in community, but some live  outside it as solitaries. If we look at many of the  communities, the reality is one of fewer members, and a high  proportion of them are now elderly. If we are honest, it is true  to say that no community is thriving with lots of novices and  people in first vows. Nearly twenty years ago there were over  forty communities for women in the Church of England,  whilst today there are roughly twenty-five. In 1997 there were  ten communities for men, now there are only seven. Quite a  few of our religious orders are  small by comparison to what  they once were, some of them  now with fewer than five or six  members. In the 1970s and  1980s several communities made  the painful but justifiable decision  to sell their mother houses, which were built in the nineteenth  century with large, commodious monastic chapels. The  problem inevitably was sustainability: there were fewer vocations  joining, either as professed brothers and sisters or as  novices, while at the same time there were men and women  leaving their communities, and death would be a prime factor.  For many of the communities the decision to sell their mother  houses, along with vast acres of land, in exchange for something  more manageable seemed to be a way forward, though  at a considerable cost to those who spent a lifetime there, from  postulant through profession: their memories, their stories,  their community history embedded in their convents and  monasteries. Even with moving from once familiar places to  new conventual homes that would be environmentally  friendly and low-maintenance, there are fewer men and  women offering themselves to this way of living out their baptismal  promises and doing so for life.


How does one reverse this seemingly downward trend?  What are the reasons why people do not feel drawn to this way  of life, this radical manner of Christian witness? For several  years there has been a growing interest in monasticism and we  are seeing in our religious communities  people who want to be  associated with us as companions,  oblates or associates but  few who actually are able or willing  to make a total commitment  of taking that first step, that leap of faith to see whether God  is actually calling them to a life of sacrifice as a monk, nun, sister,  brother or friar. Sharing in the life of a monastery or convent  is different from actually living the life on a daily basis.


The monastic life can be traced to the earliest days of  Christianity. The Desert Fathers and Mothers were the first  to literally renounce everything. St Antony of Egypt at the age  of 34 decided to take up the words of Jesus: ‘If you wish to be  perfect, go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you  shall have treasure in Heaven, and come and follow me.’ [St  Matthew 19.21]We may well ask why anyone in the twentyfirst  century would want to make the ultimate sacrifice of having  no possessions, no money, no prospect of promotion, and  no chance of having a wife or husband and children.  God calls each one of us to a special relationship with himself,  and what form that will take isn’t always clear. We needn’t  be too worried if there seem to be false starts. Nothing is  wasted with God and he will find the way for us in his good  time, if not as directly as we might wish.


The life of a religious community is a specialized form of  the life of all baptised Christians.  Its distinguishing marks are vocation,  rule, vows, and common  life. In our Christian calling and  discipleship Spirituality is how  we focus on God. This means  having a rule of life, the discipline  of prayer and confession, the daily recitation of a sevenor  four-fold office, frequent communion, fasting, meditation  and spending time in retreat. In our disciplined life we should  be mindful of moderation: in food and drink, in not exploiting  others for our own ends, the use of God’s creation, good works,  charity, looking after others. The religious life is a life centred  round the gospel of Jesus Christ. Together, monks and nuns,  brothers and sisters, worship God and seek to listen to him as  he speaks to us in scripture and through the lives of those  around us. Surely as God is calling men to the sacred priesthood  he is also calling men and women to the religious life.  What we seek is complete union with God. Perfection consists  in charity which finds its source and motive in God and its opportunities  amongst our neighbours.


The New Testament counsels detachment from all hindrances  to charity and for the monk or nun, brother or sister,  this requires the renunciation of riches, carnal pleasures, and  self-seeking. These form the three counsels of the religious life:  poverty, chastity and obedience. Poverty is more than an absence  of wealth; the true test is to ask: ‘How much does it  mean to me?’ Our Lord reminds us: ‘Where your treasure is,  there will your heart be also.’ If  you see that money is a trust  from God and use it for his glory  then you are living in the spirit  of poverty. For the religious,  poverty means putting away  everything belonging to the world.


Chastity for the religious means far more than the absence  of a husband or wife. Marriage can and should be a shining example  of the virtue of chastity. The vow of chastity does not  bind us to a loveless existence but allows us as religious people  to show unconditional love to all as our Lord commanded.  The vow of celibacy is taken because of love for God: we are  called to follow him with an undivided heart, and refrain from  intimate relationships with others. Not everyone is called to a  life of celibacy, but all Christians are called to chastity.


Each of us is bound to the virtue of obedience. There are  obligations which grow out of our membership in the Church.  In the religious life, obedience brings the will of God into every  moment of our life. The vow of obedience is the gift of ourselves  to God, offering up our freedom to him and submitting  to the will of those set over us. There are some people who  have a ‘romantic’ ideal of the religious life, a life of praying and  being good 24/7. If they came  into community, their ideal of  the life would soon disappear  very quickly! There is no such  thing as a ‘perfect’ community  with nothing to escape from.  One has to face head-on the difficulties  and challenges that  confront us from time to time—  there is no escape. We seek that  perfection in Jesus Christ,  though we fall short of God’s  glory. God chooses us, but we do  not choose the men or women  we live in the community with.  God has called them too, and  they will be imperfect just as we  are, but all the more striving for  that perfection which is found  in Our Lord. The religious life is  not a remedy for the disappointed, or as a life selected by the  self-willed and selfish; it is a struggle to the end against spiritual  enemies, and if we are able to win the battle we must put  on the armour of God.


In our religious life we aspire to be given continuously to  prayer that has to be sheltered by silence. In his Instructions on  the Religious Life, Father Benson reminds us that silence is the  great safeguard of religious actions, the storehouse of religious  feelings, a preservative against many evils, and a means of  learning manifold mysteries. Silence must be valued before it  can be practiced.


God calls each and every one of us to serve him. Jesus invites  us to follow him. How will we respond? If we follow Jesus  it will involve sacrifice and humility on our part. In the religious  life, to those who are  called, we wonder and rejoice as  here and there we find a soul  won by the grace of God to a life  which, if it means anything at all,  means a life of entire self-surrender  for the love of God. Ponder  for a moment the words of Father  Benson, which will aid you  in your own vocation, whether it is lay, ordained or to the religious  life: ‘Whatever God calls us to it is not the resting-place,  but only a step in our pilgrimage. We must always remember  that God has purposes for us, and very real purposes, which  are still hidden from us. If we could but know the future of  God’s predestination for us, how marvellously it would invigorate  us.’


When one looks back at the contribution of religious orders  of women made in the parish, their quiet witness for the  most part has gone unnoticed. What we need to remember is  the sacrifice these sisters and others like them made in the face  of persecution and sheer ignorance, which is why it is important  to remember the past so we can build on it for the future,  our future as catholic Anglicans. Over the past several decades  much emphasis has been put on the vocation of more priests,  and rightly so, but at the same  time if we claim to be promoting  the catholic faith among us  our inheritance as Anglo-  Catholics within the Church of  England should also include vocations  to the religious life. We  talk a great deal about renewal  and mission within our church,  and in the past some of us can  recall the retreats and great missions  in our parishes carried out  by brethren of Cowley, Mirfield,  Kelham, and Hilfield and  sisters from Lloyd Square, London  Colney, East Grinstead,  Horbury, Malvern Link, Wantage,  Whitby, and Woking to  name a few. During the 1950s  and 1960s there were sisters  from 25 communities working in nearly 300 parishes, where  they lived in mission houses. There are very few churches  nowadays that still have sisters living and working in the parish  and the number of retreat houses run by our religious communities  has fallen, yet the overall outlook should not be a  cause of despair. The future of the religious life and its revival  will only come about with the help of you, the members of  Forward in Faith, and the continual encouragement of our  bishops and the catholic societies which we support.


We appeal to everyone, especially priests, to commend the  religious life to their congregations. There may be single  women and men in your parish who know nothing about the  religious life. When discerning a vocation, the religious life  must be seen as a viable option. For more information about  the religious life and if you know  someone in your parish that may  have such a vocation or is exploring  where God might be calling  them, contact our website:


Religious of orthodox Tradition  has hosted three vocations  conferences known as ‘Taster  Days’ in Wellingborough, York and London for those interested  or curious about the religious life. A fourth ‘Taster Day’ will take place on 13 October in St Columba’s Church, Anfield,  Liverpool. In the meantime, we ask your prayers and support  for more religious vocations.


Brother Steven Haws is a member of the Community of the Resurrection.



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