I don’t begrudge comtemplative women’s orders their boom. I doubt any mature woman religious does either. The CNS news note about a new book seems to be incomplete, or I hope it is.
The book, titled “The Foundations of Religious Life: Revisiting the Vision” and published by Ave Maria Press, is a project of the (Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious). It explores why the orders represented by the council are gaining numbers and how they are living out the vision of consecrated life described by the Second Vatican Council. The book, released May 16, consists of essays written by six religious sisters representing five orders. The topics they address are: religious consecration, the spousal bond, the threefold response to vows, communion in community, and mission.
These topics are important, and relevant, too. That “spousal bond” continues to be a curiosity, at least for me. I know the history, the “culture” behind it; my upbringing as a Catholic wasn’t that impoverished. However, in the sacrament of marriage, there is a mutuality and complementarity between spouses. While it’s true that every relationship with God is in some way mutual, and the Church as a whole is sometimes described as a wife, the metaphor fails when looked at too closely. My suggestion would be to find some non-marital expression of the consecrated life. I’m not so ready to lend a sacramental image near and dear to me. And then we get to the sexual and procreative overtones. I guess I’ll have to read the book. The list of essays don’t address what I see as the main thing leading young women to religious life: the charisms of contemplation, stability, and the monastic tradition–as opposed to the mendicant tradition and its daughter movements.
Lay women know they can live a holy and religious life as a married or single woman in the world. They can work for the Church, and to all outward appearances, have all the advantages of community life (with family, friends, colleagues, and as associates of religious orders) without commiting to celibacy, poverty, chastity, or obedience.
I’m doubtful about the “countercultural” aspect, except that every generation of Catholic religious have striven for some degree of counterculturalism. In part, they separate in some way from the world, but lay women, again, can do this by homeschooling their children, by adopting voluntary poverty, by advocating for peace and justice, and by doing all sorts of things that don’t buy into the materialism, consumerism, and general tilted outlook of the secular culture.
As for what’s within the Church, I doubt the big orders, Franciscans, Benedictines, and Dominicans are going away anytime soon. So, no, I don’t buy into the habit thing. It’s got to be more than that.