Thursday, October 23, 2008

Vocations and the local media.

Every Saturday, my hometown newspaper runs a couple of stories on religion in Southeastern Massachusetts. To the extent that any of these stories deal with religious communities, they usually focus on a new religious institute of Franciscan inspiration which runs a downtown chapel close to the offices of the newspaper. There are many charisms within the Church, and I'm sure that the work of the friars is much appreciated by the people they serve. My fear, though, is that by focusing so strongly on this particular religious community the local newspaper is giving its readers a misleadingly limited sense of what religious life consists in. As I shared yesterday, I suspect that limited experience and knowledge of religious life keeps many who might have a religious vocation from exploring the possibility.

This topic has been on my mind in recent days thanks to an article in Saturday's New Bedford Standard-Times focusing on the aforementioned religious community, the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. Saturday's article describes a friar who visits the newsroom as "an anachronism, otherworldly - 13th century meets 21st." This description struck me as oddly familiar, as if I had read something similar before. Sure enough, a quick search turned up an earlier article by the same reporter stating that "[t]he friars seem otherworldy, an anachronism in the heart of our city. They have taken a different path from us, but one that leads to such perfect happiness that we are drawn to them. They radiate peace."

At one and the same time, the above description manages to make religious life sentimental and exotic: from the reporter's point of view, the friars seem not to have any worries or problems, and "they" remain so different from "us" that outsiders can apparently only gaze at them in awe. In any case, it's not a description that would suggest that the religious life is a viable option that some readers might want to consider. Though Saturday's article includes words of invitation to those who might want to consider a vocation with the friars, the general tone of the piece and even its title ("Many are called, few chosen to serve") supports the view that religious life consists only in contemplative removal from the world. If one had nothing but articles like this to go on, one would have no idea that religious life also consists in service in the world and among God's people.

To pick up again on a point I sought to make yesterday, I would not have entered religious life if I had not had the opportunity to get to know the Jesuits as I did at Georgetown. If I knew nothing of priestly ministry and religious life beyond what I could have learned from my home parish and the local newspaper, I doubt I would ever have given a thought to a religious vocation. As I wrote above, I suspect that many young men find themselves in precisely this situation. I hope and pray that they can find the guidance and inspiration that would allow them to respond to God's call, even if they don't find it in their parish or their locality. AMDG.


At 10/23/2008 4:58 PM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

You should contact the standard times and demand they write about you!

At 10/26/2008 5:11 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

I suppose it could be a kind of sequel to the town caucus story they did a few years back...


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