400 years of religious life ends with announcement after Mass

We close... and then what?

Sunday 2nd July. Chapel of the Ursuline convent, a community that has been in Fribourg since 1634. A nun reminds me of what I have to announce at the end of the liturgy: Sunday mass will no longer be celebrated in this pretty church in the city centre. I complied, not without emotion tinged with regret.

For this is not a unique event in our good Catholic city. These days, many apostolic or missionary communities have already closed their houses of formation, education or various services. Now it's the turn of the convents and monasteries, which are seriously wondering about their future, as they await their probable, even inevitable closure.

Unquestionably, a page is being turned in our Catholic landscape.

Sadness should not overwhelm our gratitude. For decades and even centuries, these religious - men and women - served our population by investing themselves in our Church in the name of an evangelical vocation and mission.

Of course, they were not perfect, as recent cases of abuse have reminded us, somewhat brutally. But the dedication of so many brothers and sisters, often with admirable generosity, has had a profound impact on our civilisation. We owe them immense gratitude. It is the least justice we can do to say this and to show it to the few who still faithfully live among us.

Fortunately, the Church of Jesus Christ is deeper and wider than its fragile incarnations in history. The Gospel, energised by the Holy Spirit, is capable of spreading elsewhere and even of being creative here at home. I had hoped that the old, withering communities could be compensated for by the vitality of new ones. Fortunately, some of them are still strengthening this confidence, even if - alas! too many of them have exhibited difficulties, even scandals, that defile my Christian optimism.

"Honouring and thanking our forebears who gave their lives 'for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel' is not cultivating ashes, but passing on fire".

Through all these ups and downs, the Lord is undoubtedly telling us something important, which we hope the next Synod will take into account.

Cathcon:  "Restore all things in Christ" but that is not what they are hearing and will not be adopted by Synod, which is all about them not about Christ.

However beautiful and important so-called religious vocations may be, it is Trinitarian baptism that is the basis of every commitment to the service of Christ in the communion of the Church. Isn't the vocation to holiness, in all its variations, a vocation for everyone, even with our limitations and even our sins? The end of a certain clericalism should herald the emergence of new responsibilities available to all, men and women alike, in full freedom and equality.

New forms, including community ones, will undoubtedly emerge to better respond to the needs of our humanity. Rooted in the Christian treasure of the apostolic faith, these circumstantial translations of evangelical vitality must embrace the diversity of cultural contexts much more freely. If we confuse unity with uniformity, the inspirations of the Spirit can only be curbed or even paralysed. What applies to all Church services also applies to ordained ministries.

Honouring and thanking our forebears who gave their lives "for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel" is not cultivating ashes, but passing on fire.



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