Saints of Restoration and Reform

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Three Saints

Three saints -- all three educators, founders, and spiritual fathers to children and young men -- share a common feastday on July 20th in the Benedictine calendar: Saint Jerome (Girolamo) Emiliani, 1481-1537; Saint Joseph Calasanctius (José de Calasanz), 1557-1648; and Saint Jean-Baptiste de LaSalle, 1651-1719.

Saint Jerome Emiliani

The first of these, Saint Jerome (Girolamo) Emiliani, was born in Venice. After a military career that included imprisonment and a miraculous liberation, he went on pilgrimage to the Madonna of Treviso in fulfillment of a vow and, for a time served as a local magistrate, all the while attending to the education of his nephews and studying theology on his own.

Father of the Poor

In 1528, a year marked by plague and famine, Jerome discovered his true vocation: total fatherly devotion to the poor, the sick, and orphans. He established orphanages, administered one hospital, and saw to the building of another. In 1532, together with two priests, Saint Jerome founded a religious congregation, the Servants of the Poor, at Somasca in northern Italy; members of the congregation came to be called Somascans, after the place of this first house. The principal mission of the Somascan Fathers is the fatherly care of orphans, of the poor, and of the sick.

The State of Holiness

As a member of the Oratory of Divine Love -- a veritable school of holiness inspired by Saint Catherine Fieschi Adorno (+1510) in Genoa -- Saint Jerome entered into the Counter-Reformation's renewal of the Church with a burning zeal. He longed to see the faithful of Christ restored to the state of holiness that marked the Church in the time of the Apostles, and even composed a prayer to this end:

O our gentle father, Lord Jesus Christ,
we pray Thee, of thine infinite bounty,
to reform the Christian people in that state of holiness
that was theirs in the time of Thine Apostles.
Hear us, O Lord, because Thy mercy is kind,
and in Thine immense tenderness, turn Thyself towards us.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on us.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on us.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on us.

May I be guided and protected in the way of peace, of charity, and of prosperity
by the power of God the Father, the wisdom of the Son,
and the strength of the Holy Spirit, and of the glorious Virgin Mary.

May the Angel Raphael, who was always with Tobias
also be with me in every place and road.

O good Jesus, O good Jesus, O good Jesus,
my love and my God,
in Thee do I trust, let me not be disappointed.

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Religious Life Today

As I offered Holy Mass this morning, I thought of the need here in Ireland for religious congregations that are reformed, revitalized and ready to engage in the restoration of the faithful to "a state of holiness." When one takes the measure of the bountiful harvest of holiness, priestly discipline, monastic reform, liturgical consolidation, service of the poor, instruction of the ignorant, care for the sick, and zeal for the glory of God that renewed the Church of the Counter-Reformation after the Council of Trent, and compares it with the paltry, disappointing, and bitter fruits that mark the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, one is left with the impression of a massive failure at many levels.

Outdated Religious

It is paradoxical that the very religious congregations that resolutely embraced "renewal" fifty years ago have become outdated, sterile, and moribond. Their one common characteristic appears to be an unwillingness to change (again) and an irrational attachment to the failed experiments of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.

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Heritage Rooms

The 2009 C.A.R.A. report on religious life documents what young people of the Benedict XVI generation are looking for in religious life: community life; daily liturgical prayer (Divine Office), Eucharistic adoration, and Marian devotions; a common unified apostolate; the clear visibility of the religious habit, etc. Aging protagonists of the Vatican II generation, in Ireland, in the U.S.A., and elsewhere, wring their hands about the dearth of vocations to their congregations and, at the same time, would rather die than embrace corporate reform, renewal, and revitalization. Their opportunity for reform -- and for choosing life -- will soon have passed them by, leaving their spiritual patrimony sealed in "heritage rooms."

The People in Charge Now

It would seem, at least from anecdotal evidence, that the greatest (and often most strident) resistance to the reform of religious life comes, not from those who made profession sixty, or seventy years ago, but from those who made profession early in the late 1960s, and in the 1970s and 80s. These would be people who entered religious life and committed themselves to it shortly after or during the seismic changes of the 1960s and 70s. They adjusted, sometimes with heroic generosity, to the changes imposed or legislated by their elders, and were, for the most part, content to serve Christ and His Church in a kind of hybrid model of religious life marked more by compromise with the world than by the resolve to reform. Having attained positions of responsibility and, often, of power, they are unwilling to risk a new wave of change that would, necessarily, call into question the very principles that they suffered and worked hard to implement and maintain.


Reform and Revitalization?

Will the people currently in charge of the great apostolic congregations of men and women that were founded in the 19th century, and came to maturity in the 20th, rise to the challenge of a vigorous reform? Or will they stay the course taken over the past 50 years and await the inevitable extinction of their species? These are questions that go beyond than the internal affairs of aging religious communities; they pertain to the present and future revitalization of the Church, especially here in Ireland.

Not Too Late to Choose Life

It may be the Eleventh Hour, but it is not the Twelfth; it is not too late for a few brave religious to choose life and, like Abraham and Sarah, to revel in the joy of a wondrous generativity. Saints like Jerome Emiliani make me long to see this happen. The "state of holiness" that he saw in the Church of the Apostles can yet be restored to the faithful of Ireland, and may be coming soon to a monastery or convent near you.


Restored. Reformed. Ready. AMEN ! I really enjoyed reading your "R Analysis" , Father Prior. Thank you.
Needless to say, the same issues plague the Church of France as well, although the tide is slowly changing due to the aging Episcopate and the fine ,new Shepherds being appointed here and there . Yet...Mgr Rey remains one of the very rare "outspoken " ones. Fear of standing out or being ridiculed by fellow Bishops is often cited as the reason for the lack of pastoral initiative. Truly our love has not yet been perfected, as St John would say. It is curious how the priests I speak to here throw up their hands and sigh, with their eyes turned beyond the Atlantic, lamenting the state of the French Bishops Conference, longing deeply for what they perceive to be the generally couragious and united voice of American Bishops ! Let us count our blessings.... prairie est toujours plus belle en face, n'est-ce pas ? !

Que Dieu vous bénisse...Que la Vierge Marie vous comble !

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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