Unlike the days of old, their ministries vary greatly and include hospitality, maintenance, finance, a variety of parish ministries, retreat house ministry, executive assistance in health care for elderly priests, ministry to youth, cooking, music, mentoring those in formation, missions, preaching, etc., etc. In other words, the scope of their work is impressive and so was their commitment to service. To use and old term, they were edifying.
As for content: I came away with two outstanding lessons. The first is that the greatest crisis in religious life today is not aging, or dwindling numbers. Rather the greatest crisis may be the growing tendency to being insufficiently rooted in contemplation; contemplation of God; contemplation of creation; contemplation of the present moment. Contemplation is the place from which all relationships, commitments and ministries grow. In addition, a life rooted in contemplative prayer can prevent unhealthy coping mechanisms from taking over our lives. While this certainly was support for my own vocation, the speaker directed his remarks to the Brothers and also to any one who desires to walk the spiritual path. Certainly this is a challenge in our age and our culture. It is even a challenge here in the monastery.
The second lesson is that those who are coming into religious life today, those so totally immersed in the nature of our times, are drawn by their desire for community and mission. Congregations and orders who hope to attract and keep new members must examine themselves for the vibrancy and health of their community life and their expressions of dedication to the stated mission of their group. Young men and woman are looking for the real, real expressions of the ideals of community and mission. We must ask ourselves, "Are we living these values in a way that demonstrates obvious attributes?" This is the stuff of personal and communal examinations of conscience.
I am very grateful to the Redemptorist Brothers for allowing my participation, for being so welcoming and for being the instruments of grace and encouragement in my life.