Are priests and nuns less sociable?
Consecrated life does not mean that nuns and brothers are less sociable than others
The Dominican sisters make their perpetual vows on July 30 in Bien Hoa. (Photo: giaophanxuanloc.net)
Humans are gregarious animals, which means they have an urgent need to communicate with a certain community. And religious people are no exception.
The peculiarities of consecrated life oblige men and women to renounce or limit certain relationships. The most typical example is that they are prohibited from living a married life and their social ties with people of the opposite sex or of the same sex must also be limited.
However, this does not mean that nuns and brothers are less sociable than others.
Their gregariousness is expressed in their relationships with their families, confreres in the communities and strangers.
The family gives them solid support to live a consecrated life serenely. The more emotionally attached they are to their family, the easier it is to give their tender hearts to other people since the family is where they have the experiences of loving and being loved.
There is no shortage of religious who do not want to go home or even think about their families. They could possibly have a negative view of religious life, thinking that once they enter the convent, they must leave everything behind, especially their families and loved ones.
“In terms of relationships, religious orders are likened to second families of religious, and community life occupies a crucial place in religious life”
The best solution to dispel this misunderstanding is to invite them to contemplate the representation of Jesus, the perfect example of religious. Recalling that the one who followed Jesus to Golgotha and comforted his disciples during the time of panic was none other than Mary, the biological mother of Jesus.
Another clear reason why some clerics want to cut ties with their family is that they still suffer from psychological wounds that have not been healed. They may have been abused by loved ones in some way, or their families are dealing with serious issues, so they manage to avoid or share responsibility.
Whatever their reasons, if they have a difficult relationship with their family, it is very difficult for them to find peace and happiness in their religious life.
In terms of relationships, religious orders are likened to second families of religious, and community life occupies a crucial place in religious life.
After all, it is their confreres, and not their immediate family, who accompany religious until the end of their consecrated life. In reality, most religious give up their vocation because of conflicts in the communities or disagreements with their superiors.
Certainly, community life is a huge challenge for men and women religious, who are not free to choose to live with the people they love. On the contrary, they are called to love those with whom they are made to live, and sometimes these people are not at all lovable.
It can be said that community life is a test to show whether religious really follow Jesus or live according to the spirit of the Gospel. It is clearly wrong with those who want to love others as Jesus loved but cannot love people in the same house.
Therefore, it would be a grave mistake for religious people to try to seek solace in other relationships than brotherly or brotherly love in their communities.
“Gone are the days when people thought that only what was inside religious houses was holy and moral, and everything outside was sinful and immoral”
An elderly priest said, “I would like you to treat your confreres the same way you treat strangers. This underlines the unity of the affective life of religious. Religious with a good heart must be open to all, among them the closest people are their brothers or sisters in the communities.
It is easy for religious people to love their family members because they are their blood relatives, and it is not difficult to love strangers who usually love, respect and please them. However, loving brothers or sisters in their communities correctly reflects their consecrated love.
Religious are like everyone else when it comes to working relationships with their friends. Gone are the days when people thought that only what was inside religious houses was holy and moral, and everything outside was sinful and immoral.
It is true that religious must restrict themselves to certain social relationships, and they are not free to go anywhere or meet whomever they want. However, religious regulation is not intended to eliminate religious sociability because it is inhumane. On the contrary, they are the necessary conditions to help religious to live their gregariousness healthily and to bear more spiritual fruits.
Some nuns and some brothers are fortunate to have close confidants who are lay people, to whom they can open up and share their joys, their sorrows and even their weaknesses.
A social relationship in itself is neither good nor bad, simply because it is a basic human need. A relationship only becomes good or bad depending on what we aim for.
“Mature religious know how to show their gregariousness according to the nature of consecrated life”
In the age of computers, the fences of monasteries cannot prevent religious from connecting with the outside world, but their connections are easily made and maintained secretly. The Internet and social networks are becoming essential channels for them to satisfy their sociability.
It wouldn’t be a big deal if their relationships didn’t negatively affect how they treat the people they meet face to face on a daily basis. Community meals are no longer meant for intimate conversations between community members, as they occupy their minds with interesting news and unanswered messages on smartphones.
Dating is no longer an opportunity for them to build solidarity with each other since they are busy taking pictures to post. Charities and apostolic ministries are no longer aimed at giving love to people in need as the beneficiaries are just the characters in the photos which attract a lot of interactions on the religious social networking sites.
In short, the sociability of religious must be taken into account and reinforced. Mature religious know how to show their gregariousness according to the nature of consecrated life.
They are not only “people of God” but also “people of all”, so all their relationships are precious and worthy of respect, whether they are built through face-to-face or online encounters.
Consecrated life helps religious grow holistically, without strangling their God-given qualities and abilities, especially gregariousness. May religious feel inner freedom in all their relationships, so that they can live in peace, flourish in the consecrated life and spread the love of service to all who come into contact with them.
Joseph Le Dac Thang is a Jesuit in Vietnam. This article was summarized and translated by a UCA News reporter from a Vietnamese article published by dongten.net here. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.