Nicolas Stebbing CR suggests a way to help our religious communities
Religious communities in England are much smaller than they were years ago. When I first met the Community of the Resurrection in 1965, there were more than 80 brothers. Now there are 13. That is a catastrophic decline, yet it is typical of most Anglican orders, many of which have ceased to exist, and of most Catholic orders, too, in the West. There are all kinds of sociological and religious reasons that explain this. Can it also be that God is using this time to prune the religious life in order to cut off dead wood that new life will grow? We are trying to do something about this in various ways, to make people aware of the religious life so that some will consider joining it. However, we believe the most effective way to do this is by prayer. We need to ask God to make us, and other communities, fit places to receive and keep young men and women. We need to ask God to inspire people to come and join us and to give them the courage to embrace this very different way of life. I believe this will make a really big difference to our future, and that of other religious communities. God listens to your prayers and he answers them whenever he can. We never really know this, but we believe it is true.
St Benedict writes in his Rule:
‘Seeking his workman in a multitude of people, the Lord calls out to him and lifts his voice: “Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days?” (Ps 34) … What dear brothers is more delightful than this voice of the Lord calling to us?’ (Prologue, 14, 15, 19).
That is what brought each one of us into the religious life. In different ways, we heard this voice calling and followed it. It was exciting; it promised good things. It warned us life would sometimes be hard, the call was a costly one to follow, but it would be worth it. We would be walking with Christ; we would be doing really good things for God; we would be exploring God’s love for us and learning to love Him.
That is still the call God is offering, but we get tired, cynical, bored or disillusioned. Before we can even speak to young people about joining us we need to make sure we still hear that call and can reflect it to others; that we can receive others who are following that call and help them to stay faithful to it. It is we who need to be changed, and we who need to pray for change in ourselves.
So please pray:
- For courage and honesty as we look at ourselves and see where change needs to come ‘that Christ may be formed in us.’
- That God may work in us for “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Pray that we will cooperate with God and not resist Him.
- That we may let the Spirit freely work in our lives: ‘The wind (or spirit) blows where it pleases… but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ .
- That we will allow ourselves to be ‘born from above’ in that long slow process which takes place throughout our lives.
- For those of us in the Benedictine tradition—particularly our related communities at St Matthias, Trier, and the Monastery of Christ the Word, Zimbabwe. Also for Sisters’ communities to whom we are close: the Order of the Holy Paraclete, the Stanbrook Abbey sisters, The Holy Cross community at Costock and the sisters at West Malling; that the call to ‘yearn for life’ will come to us again. ‘Consider your call, brethren…’
- That we may turn away from the ‘comfortable mediocrity’ that is the curse of all religious life. Revelation’s warning to the Laodiceans is one we all need to take seriously: ‘Because you are lukewarm… I will spit you out of my mouth.’
- That we may hear God calling us in the current crisis in the environment and understand how it may be a positive force for reimagining our commitment to the God who created this world: ‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.’
- For the Community of the Resurrection: that we will have the grace to examine ourselves, see what God is asking of us and have the courage to respond.
- For the religious life in the Anglican Communion: that we may be guided by the Holy Spirit in the paths of wisdom and truth to rediscover the call that brought us into the life, and to offer it to others.
- For those young women and men whom God is calling into the religious life in one of its forms: that they may recognize their call and have the courage to answer it.
- For each of us in the religious life: that we will allow ‘Christ to be formed in us’ in the manner Christ wants.
- For the monks and nuns, brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic Church: that they, too, will discover the new life God is offering them.
- For all who support our communities with work, prayer or money: that together we will learn to serve Christ who loves us and wants to help us grow in the Father’s love.
Father Nicolas Stebbing is a brother of the Community of the Resurrection. More details about this Prayer Apostolate can be found on the Community website www.mirfield.org.uk