“Men and women religious, who live to imitate Jesus, are called to bring their own gaze into the world, a gaze of compassion, a gaze that goes in search of those far-off; a gaze that does not condemn, but encourages, frees, consoles; a gaze of compassion.”
– Pope Francis
Men and women who are called by God enter into religious life give themselves wholly to God. There are many different orders and congregations that live and work in the Archdiocese of Birmingham. They serve God and his Church in many different ways according to the charisms and mission of their congregation. There are two main expressions of religious life: apostolic and contemplative.
What is religious life and why is it important?
What is known as religious life is a form of consecrated life where members (male or female) profess vows of chastity, poverty and obedience within their congregation or community. 'Religious' in this sense does not mean those who lead a holy life, instead, they are those who have given their whole life to Christ, storing up treasures in heaven without giving a thought to achieving materialistic goals in this life. There are two forms of religious life in the Catholic Church: apostolic and contemplative life.
What is apostolic religious life?
Leading a shared community life, those in apostolic religious life witness to a life in community with Christ, the Church and one another. Each congregation has their own values and traditions, as implemented by their founder or founders. Apostolic work includes but not limited to feeding the hungry, sheltering the orphan and the aged, healing the sick and instructing children. Therefore, every religious congregation is unique and they provide a rich source of inspiration and encouragement for the Church.
“[Religious give] a splendid and varied testimony, reflecting the multiplicity of gifts bestowed by God on founders and foundresses who, in openness to the working of the Holy Spirit, successfully interpreted the signs of the times and responded wisely to new needs. Following in their footsteps, many other people have sought by word and deed to embody the Gospel in their own lives, bringing anew to their own times the living presence of Jesus, the Consecrated One par excellence, the One sent by the Father. In every age consecrated men and women must continue to be images of Christ the Lord, fostering through prayer a profound communion of mind with him (cf. Philippians 2:5-11), so that their whole lives may be penetrated by an apostolic spirit and their apostolic work with contemplation.”
Pope John Paul II, Vita consecrata
What is contemplative religious life?
The contemplative religious congregations live a more quiet, monastic life, praying and studying the Scriptures. Even though they live a quiet, prayerful life, it is a powerful testimony to the love of Christ. Whilst they live a life of radical simplicity, this is for them a truly fulfilling and joyous vocation. They 'live Jesus' in ways that the rest of the world may not easily comprehend.
What is the difference between religious clergy and diocesan clergy?
Men in religious life may also be ordained priests (or more rarely, permanent deacons). There are many differences between the two. Diocesan priests are assigned a parish or ministry by the bishop of the diocese, whereas the place where a religious priest lives is decided by the superior of the congregation. The main ministry of a diocesan priest is to work in a parish and look after its people, whereas a religious priest's mission would depend on the charisms of their religious order; some lead parishes, but other ministries can include working with the poor, teaching, assisting the elderly, helping the refugees or leading a contemplative prayer life. Another major difference is that diocesan priests make three promises at ordination:
To recite daily the Liturgy of the Hours,
To obey the bishop,
To live a life of celibacy.
On the other hand, a religious priest makes the following vows at his profession:
Why should I consider religious life?
If you have a strong desire to serve God and his people in a different way than most people would, if you are inspired by the Scriptures and saints to love and to give yourself wholly to Christ, then you should give some consideration whether God is calling you to enter religious life.