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Consecrated Life in Asia

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East Asian Pastoral Review

A negative correlation exists between modernity and commitment to the consecrated life.  This means that the progression of the modern life in developing nations corresponds with the decline of religious vocations in varying proportions…. At this point in time, religious life in Asia is thriving, and there seems to be little need for the kind of alarm and despair experienced in the Church in the West. [From 1978 to 2004, the number of religious brothers in Asia was reported to have increased by 38.72%…. The number of professed women religious likewise increased by 64.49%…. Further, the number of priests increased by 74%.]

As people live in economically-driven societies that encourage hard work, hard spending and continuous acquisition, their spiritual aspirations for lives devoted to holiness are also somewhat dulled.  Thus, the interaction of the Christian community with the materialistic culture of the more developed Asian nations is more than a philosophical one, for to speak into the culture is also to stake one’s material wellbeing in the process.  Such a cost for interaction is perhaps the reason that it has become normative for Christians of the relatively developed nations to accord definitive priority to economic wellbeing, often even at the expense of social responsibility.…

But in the light of this modern challenge, the Church in Asia is reminded to be committed to living history differently.  In a wider culture that frantically finds its identity and security in material achievements and sensual pleasure, the Church – herself being an eschatological phenomenon – has to be the embodiment of an eschatological hope which renders all such preoccupations void.  In a modern era that exalts the preoccupation with temporality, she must be jolted and constantly summoned to return to her calling to be the Church in the world that prays “Thy Kingdom come.”  For this, a recovery of the sacramental nature of the Church must be attained.…

If Christ is the sacrament of God, the Church is for us the sacrament of Christ; she represents him, in the full and ancient meaning of the term, she really makes him present.  She not only carries on his work, but she is his very continuation, in a sense far more real than that in which it can be said that any human institution is its founder’s continuation….

In the context of the present discussion, the recovery of the understanding of sacrament as being that which the Church is, as opposed to merely what the Church does, crucially presents the need for a shift from an action- and result-oriented Church to a being-oriented Church.

Simply put, there is no space in ecclesiology for a Church that thrives on an easy gospel.  The cogent argument placed before her is that of her need to recover the antithetical nature of discipleship to a modern Asian society that thrives on the domestication of God and materialistic inclinations, thereby rendering aspirations for sacred vocations irrelevant at best and ridiculous at worst.  The community of Christ, which is itself the sacrament of Christ in the world, is called to embody a different way of living and to embrace a radically different set of values in the way it regulates its common life so that it may reflect the very Christ it follows.

Stanley Hauerwas argues that in the present paradigm of modern Church life, the call of the Church to discipleship has become paralysed. The existence of the modern, and therefore, a consumeristic worldview in the Church itself renders impossible the requirement that the person who desires to be a member of the Christian community should embrace a vulnerability to certain imposed spiritual disciplines.  Hauerwas describes this transformation of paradigm as one that has shifted from that of a “called Church” to that of the “voluntary Church,” where the attitude of friendliness and the positive climate are the order of the community.  He emphasizes the need to recover the calling of the Church for discipleship through spiritual disciplines, for there are occasions when human crisis calls for discipline rather than care.  A Church that hesitates to speak prophetically and sacrificially to the modern world is bound for a consequential loss of her sense of calling as a people with a mission in the world.  The vocational crisis in many segments of the Church in Asia is but a summons to the restoration of authentic discipleship, and if left unheeded, a painful foretaste of the shape of things to come.

Such times do not render redundant the Church’s continuous call for holy men and women committed to the consecrated life.  If those living the consecrated life are sacramentals meant to inspire the community of believers to embody the evangelical counsels of Christ Jesus and to return to the holy life, then the Church’s call needs to be further intensified and tirelessly proclaimed.  Now, more than ever, such men and women wholly devoted to the search for holiness need to be present among the Asian peoples as a sign that the Kingdom of God continues to abide and inspire amidst Asia’s struggle with the modern life.