SELLING ALL’ By Prof. Sandra M Schneiders IHM
‘Selling All’, is the second volume in a trilogy, ‘Religious Life in a new Millennium’. In this masterly work Schneiders makes a detailed survey of religious life in the church; it’s past and present; and concludes with a personal affirmation of the place of the religious life in the future. For the purposes of this review, I am going to deal with the second volume only, and those chapters that directly impinge on the single consecrated life. Volume Two is divided into three parts, but I confined my reading to Part One, ‘Commitment’, this covers vocation and discernment; formation and incorporation and commitment and profession, and Part Two, ‘Consecrated Celibacy’, covers Celibacy as Charism, Women’s Reality, Family and Home.
The writer is herself a member of an active religious community within the American Roman Catholic Church, and much of what she says is post Vatican Two, but with references to the period before.
What she writes is not only relevant to those who live their vocations in community, but has much to say to those who live the single consecrated life.
VOCATION: Sr Sandra explores what that means. “I understand that it is not a static thing, but a dynamic that propels me forward, and that leads to the need for discernment. Discernment is coming to an informed decision before God of what I should do here and now.”
DISCERNMENT: This is a process that should involve the one seeking, those who are consulted and the constant recourse to scripture and prayer. Indeed her language is quite strong on the latter. “Prayer is to Religious Life (Single Consecrated Life) what communication, that is sustained interaction and mutual contemplation, is to any committed relationship.
In her meditation on the Scriptures, the Religious (Consecrated Celibate) remembers the history that produced Jesus and was fulfilled in his life and death, and deeply interiorizes his personality, his relationship with God and others, the mysteries of his life and his teaching.
She becomes “one spirit with Christ” (1 Cor. 6: 17) in and through liturgical celebration of his life and union with him in Eucharist. Gradually she develops the lifestyle and the disciplines that facilitate and nurture her communication with Jesus and that ongoing
communication nourishes the relationship that is at the heart of her life. A relationship that does not grow is doomed, and a life commitment that is not founded on and expressive of a supremely worthwhile relationship is hollow. The priority of prayer in the life of a religious(consecrated celibate) is the touchstone of commitment and finally the only guarantee of its success. (p 99/100. )The parentheses are mine.
FORMATION: The necessity of beginning to shape one’s vocation (Formation) has to begin even during the discernment process. A Rule of Life should be drawn up which contains attendance in the liturgy of the church, prayer (including the recitation of one or more Offices,) bible study, spiritual reading and the regular meeting with a mentor. The
reason why I feel that it is important to establish the process of discernment, is because it is something that is ongoing, and does not end when one comes to the decision to go forward into the life of consecrated celibacy. Sr Sandra, developing her theme, says that it runs right through formation and on, even, into the life in vows. So I ask “Is what I am doing today, what God is asking of me? Am I discerning that he is calling me into a new experience of him? Have I stalled in some way, and if so, what? I find that discernment is for today, not for
tomorrow. ‘I raise my diminutive spire to merciful him, whose only now is forever’. (E.E. Cummings “I am a little church).
INCORPORATION: is not very relevant to exploring the single consecrated life, except that all vowed men and women whether coenobitic or eremitical, have a ‘governing body’. We belong to a community even though it is dispersed.
COMMITMENT TO CHRIST: in consecrated celibacy is the commitment to love Jesus Christ totally, absolutely, and forever, and to express and embody that love. In the complete and exclusive self-gift of consecrated celibacy (p 81.) Focussing on discernment caused me
to take a long hard look at what consecrated celibacy means. “ Consecrated celibacy is the total, exclusive, and lifelong self-gift to Christ which a particular person feels called to express in genitally abstinent non-marriage undertaken as a free response to a personally
experienced and discerned vocation” (Selling All p30). It is also “….the freely chosen response to a personally discerned vocation to charismatically grounded, religiously motivated, sexually abstinent, lifelong commitment to Christ that is externally symbolized by remaining un-married. (Selling All p117) This is a hard one. I have never married, so I do not know if marriage might have been more fulfilling than celibacy. It is a question of choice. Have I done my ‘homework’ on discernment well enough and can I therefore make my informed choice, does my sense of vocation tell me that it is Christ’s choice of me and therefore mine of him? I cite these questions, as I hope to illustrate just how helpful this book has been to me, both now and perhaps tomorrow. Prof Schneiders did not give me my answers, through reading her deeply thought-out and honest work; I was helped to form my own. The challenges she raised, gave me much material for prayer, especially when it came to making my own life profession.
PROFESSION: I would love to relate chunks of passages from the section on ‘profession’, they are so profoundly moving, I can only recommend reading them from page 100 to 106. However I will give just one. (Religious) profession is the act by which a person, who has carefully discerned a call to the Religious Life and conceived a deep desire to give herself totally to Jesus Christ in lifelong consecrated celibacy, finally crosses the threshold into the life in a definitive and irrevocable way. It is a supremely important moment, not as an isolated temporal act but as the culmination of a long process of questioning, testing, and choosing and as the initiating moment of the rest of her life in fulfilling that choice (p. 100).” All in all this is a very scholarly work, but it is also a deeply spiritual gift from someone who lives the life she has investigated.
Everything has been put under the microscope and Prof Schneiders does not pull punches when that is needed even her Magisterium comes in for some stern language.
For all of us, the future does hold a great deal of hope both for the church and for the life of consecration. But best of all those who feel called by God to sell all in his service, and desire to bring to that calling all that is best of today’s church and world, the knowledge that we have been given Treasure in Earthen Vessels.
‘Religious Life in a New Millennium’ by Sandra M Schneiders I.H.M
Volume Two: Selling All’: Paulist Press
ISBN 0 – 8091 – 3973 – 1