Friday, January 04, 2013

Religious Numbers

The L. C. W. R. is a group of women religious orders.  The C. M. S. W. R. is another group.  The L. C. W. R. is known for being more progressively minded, and the C. M. S. W. R. is known for a more traditional observance of religious life.  According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, roughly the same number of women are joining both groups as religious sisters (though a little more for the C. M. S. W. R.).  So maybe liberal and conservative orders have roughly the same future in the American Church. 

But, then again, maybe not.

Take the age of women becoming sisters in both conferences.  The women that join orders in the C. M. S. W. R. tend to be in their 20s.  The women that join orders in the L. C. W. R. tend to be in their 40s or 50s.  That spells more longevity for members of the C. M. S. W. R.

Also, the L. C. W. R. is three times the size of the C. M. S. W. R.  And it represents more of the older and established American orders.  So when the L. C. W. R. is getting less than half of the vocations, that's bad news.  Almost all of its orders are unable to replace themselves.  And they are dying out quickly (the average age of women in perpetual vows is 74).

The real situation behind the numbers is this: in one conference you have a lot of aging orders that each get a middle-aged novice from time to time, while in the other conference you have a smaller  number of orders that each get many young novices every year (although not all orders in the C. M. S. W. R. witness equal success).

So should the communities in the L. C. W. R. change in order to get more members?  Maybe the market is already dried up for more traditionally minded vocations.  Perhaps the C. M. S. W. R. has already taken those women.  And besides, such women only amount to half the possible vocations.  So maybe orders in the L. C. W. R. should stay the course, and take the older, more liberally minded candidates that come to them, rather than becoming more traditional and thereby maneuvering themselves out of all new vocations.    

The trouble with this sort of thinking is that it turns vocations into a zero-sum game.  It's not.  The communities in the L. C. W. R. should not worry that there are not enough "traditional vocations" to go around if they all become more traditional.  Most of the communities have a well-developed infrastructure.  They come into contact with numerous people.  If they live a life of religious charity, faithful to Christ and his Church, then they can and will inspire people who have never even thought about religious life.  If you live genuine religious life, people will be captivated by it.  They will want to be with you, pray with you, and work with you.

From theology we know this: the good is diffusive of itself.  The upshot: Love Christ, love his Church, and others will follow your lead.  The L. C. W. R. (encompassing three fourths of our female religious communities) does not need to rest content with less than half of our vocations.  It is time to increase the demand for religious life.                 

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