Consumerism in religious orders key to decline in England

A drift into consumerism and a preoccupation with money and finance are key reasons for the stagnation of religious orders in England, says an historian.

Dom Aidan Bellenger, former Abbot of Downside Abbey and a leading historian of the monastic life, made this assertion in an article in The Tablet.

He suggested that communities had made “too much accommodation with consumerist ideals of the modern world, too many credit cards, too many expensive holidays”.

“A decline in the number of vocations has combined with the ageing of the communities, and a tendency to middle class stagnation, strangulation by comfort and gerontocracy,” Dom Aidan wrote.

He stated that many of the problems were to do with money and finance.

He also argued that the running of schools and parishes have taken religious away from their foundational ideas.

Traditionally communities have run schools, parishes and other institutions and have sought to balance the call to be contemplatives with work in the world.

Last year, Pope Francis proclaimed a Year for Consecrated Life, running from November, 2014, to February, 2016.

In his apostolic letter announcing the year, Pope Francis noted that he did this “on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, which speaks of religious in its sixth chapter, and of the Decree Perfectae Caritatis on the renewal of religious life”.

In his apostolic letter, the Pope challenged religious to examine themselves in terms of their openness to the Gospel, and whether it is truly the “manual” for daily living for them.

“The Gospel is demanding: it demands to be lived radically and sincerely,” the Pope wrote.

“It is not enough to read it (even though the reading and study of Scripture is essential), nor is it enough to meditate on it (which we do joyfully each day).

“Jesus asks us to practice it, to put his words into effect in our lives.”


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