How did Sandra Schneiders get the courage to write this book? I was amazed and delighted to work my way through her research and logic and find an explanation for the alienation I feel in the Church of my youth. She names clearly and well what is the matter with the church today. Although this book is aimed at woman in religious life I found in it a treasure of facts on church history,teaching and contempory culture. It dares to tell what is wrong at the center of the Church. In doing so the author gives me the first hope I have had in 20 years that there is a way to give the church back to the people.
This is the first of a two-volume work, this one defining where and what Religious Life (RL) is today, the second to be published later this month deals with how RL is or should be lived, and it's said that there may be a third volume to address a number of remaining issues. It is a bricolage of insights from many disciplines fit into an intelligible pattern out of Schneiders's long experience; Religious and other readers will judge the results depending on their own experience. It deals with present-day, first-world Religious women and specifically apostolic sisters. Contemplative, male and third-world Religious will need to make their own adaptations.
Part I of this volume describes the human context of RL. RL is humanly grounded in the anthropological archetype of the Monk (who seeks one thing), the psychological archetype of the Virgin (one-in-herself), and the sociological type of the Religious virtuoso. A sociological approach to RL as an organic life form with multiple interrelated aspects rather than distinct separable elements addresses the issues of (various levels of) membership in a congregation as well as its growth, self-renewal and possible decline and death. Since and because of Vatican II sisters have leapt from the middle ages to postmodernity in the space of 30 years, and the types of postmodernity that form the present historical context and options for RL are distinguished.
Part II looks at the ecclesial context of RL. Theologically it is rooted in the grace of Baptism, but characterized by consecrated celibacy; contemplative closeness to God and social unity with the marginalized put Religious in a unique place to exercise a prophetic role and calling particularly inside the Church. Spiritually RL seems to be collectively going through a postmodern crisis comparable to the Dark Night of the Soul, not showing the characteristic signs of death throes, but the real possibility for new life. The ecclesiastical confusion about the place of Religious in relation to the hierarchical structure, canonical status and theological identity is seen to be caused by the mandatory singleness of the clergy, the sexualization of power relations in the Church, and the privative connotations of the term "lay," as well as from positive developments of Vatican II. The issues of canonical status and the (hypothetical) ordination of Religious women are addressed to clarify related topics. Various levels of the charism of RL are disentangled and on one level the mobile ministerial form of RL is affirmed as an ages-old calling valid in itself and not a watered down form of monasticism. Three special areas need the prophetic mission of RL today: interreligious dialog, the dialectic of religion and spirituality, and feminism in the Church.
Schneiders is herself the prophetic Religious she describes in the book, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, consoling Religious in their spiritual Dark Night, and summoning them from becoming merely a cheap ecclesiastical work force to assuming the mantle of prophecy and renewed leadership. She is prophetic too in identifying the continuous systemic injustices caused by the patriarchal structures of the Church and the sexism of churchmen, and so is likely to receive a prophet's welcome and reward in many quarters. But whether you agree with her or not, in whole or in part, she has with clarity and expertise defined the terms, identified the problems and mapped out the areas for the discussion of Religious life for years to come.