Maryknoll Vocation Ministries is a service to the Maryknoll Society.
This blog aims to keep Maryknoll Formation Candidates and
Vocation Prospects abreast of discernment and Church issues.

September 6, 2011

The Habit does not make the man; the man makes the habit

Sem. Pablo Talavera, M.M.
People who are contemplating a religious life are simultaneously seeking to answer a call of identity. To be able to see yourself and have a clear image of who you are or what you want to be is essential regarding vocation. Many people approach their vocation by the image that they have of a certain profession. For instance, the image that a fire-fighter, policeman, doctor or lawyer has usually represents the work each profession does. In the same manner, for a long time the image of the religious person involved a habit, which for the most part included the major orders (Franciscan, Dominican, Benedictine, and Augustinian). This image has been slowly disappearing among religious communites as lay people have been empowered and religious members have sought to  blend into secular society. For the most part, the traditional orders have maintained their habits as a sign of identity.  However, for many other religious communities the emphasis on the habit has decreased.

The Church in today's culture, faces new challenges and new times. As the number of vocations drop all, the conversation for habits arises in religious communities. As a new wave of young enthusiastic Catholics emerge, they have demanded to return to the roots of the religious vocation with their habits and traditions. They seek desperately to be able to identify themselves with their vocation in a society that they feel has lost Christian values. For traditional orders, as mentioned above, this is not an issue. However, for Maryknoll and other congregations and societies who have evolved from this era, this topic is a matter of discussion today.

As a Maryknoll Seminarian, this is quite an important issue. Maryknoll, The Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, has identified its charism to be foreign mission. Maryknollers travel thousand of miles all over the world to blend in with people, to lose a sense of comfort, to learn a new language and new traditions in order to be able to reach people on a very mutual and personal level. Maryknoll missioners all over the world have never given any significant importance to the habit. As a matter of fact it would appear to be something contradictory to the essence of mission. Today however, we face the dilemma of people interested far more in lay vocations than in religious ones.  We face young people seeking to embrace and revive lost values and a broken Church.

There are many approaches to the question of the habit in the Church. Still, we can agree that the religious habit has both limitations and attributions. It brings hope to those who discern a vocation (specially in today’s society). It brings identity for a set of beliefs.  It brings a sense of community for a same cause.  However we must always be aware of the exterior appearance of the habit as well, and make sure that the identity we are seeking is grounded in Christ.

Sem. Pablo Talavera, M.M.

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