This book by Joan Chittister, an American Benedictine nun, is a provocative book, which wants to shake up, awake and restless. The author deals with the problems of the Church, orders and spiritual communities of today because they are diverging and looking for new ones. It is not always easy to bear reading this book and I have sometimes found myself as described in the foreword: “The gesture of” angry-laying-out-of-hand, the-in-the-corner- throwing can be entirely appropriate to this reading. “But I didn’t do it, I read it to the end and I’m grateful for it to this day because while reading this book, it is becoming increasingly clear: The author is not writing the book to criticize, complain or to blame. It is characterized by high esteem for religious life and looking for ways to rid it of incrustations and indurations and create new, lively ones to find life forms. The book literally breathes the author’s love for religious life: “… it is about the godly burning passion that is required to form a present of religious life to find that between the cherished old and the emerging new, which paves new paths and develops in a world that is the turning point in history is shaken by constant change. ”

It is not easy to write a review of this book because every page is filled with this passion. Therefore we think it is good to also think about it in sections which we will send you gradually.

So I would like to invite you in this first article, together with the author, to seek the meaning and mission of medals. For Sr. Joan, the most essential option for emergence is and the reason  for orders in the search for God. She writes: “In truth it has never given a good reason to enter religious life at all, except ‘for looking to God ‘.” In this context, she describes clearly and critically the situation of the orders and Congregations of our time and goes into historical contexts and developments and the influence of the Church and society. She clearly sees that what was meaningful and necessary in the beginning of the formation of communities is often only today is still preserving tradition and sticking to the familiar.

Most of us entered the congregation when religious life was primarily shaped  of apostolic activity, self-sacrificing service, and common prayer as a strict daily structure. That was all well and good at the time, but here the development of society is probably outdated. Sr. Joan writes: “The spirituality of productivity is over.”. And elsewhere: “If our main interest is in the work, the religious do, the religious life itself is consequently questioned as soon as their work – out of which whatever reason – becomes less important. ”Whereas in the past, medals went to the places where the State failed, i.e. to the sick, the elderly, the disabled, the poor, the dying, etc., the Society caught up a lot here. The pioneering work of the orders is done and now they are “as that needs what they should always be: a spiritual voice, a sign of a counterculture, a prophetic presence in culture. “At this point it is slowly becoming clear why the author uses the title “Under the ashes a secret fire” for her book. The image of fire and ashes reappearson. She herself is completely fulfilled, yes burns from this inner fire, but she experiences it.

Religious communities often as groups that are internally extinguished and now only ashes preserve. And now it is up to us to keep the embers and rekindle the fire. But how? Sr. Joan warns, “If the fire is to be saved for another generation, it must keep the voice of God alive in religious life in this time.. ”And that is today, in one largely secularized and indifferent to religious life, often not light. On the one hand, it demands from us an intensive spiritual search, deepening in that Gospel, but at the same time, and that is the other side, a translation and transmission of the words and texts of Holy Scripture in the lives of people today. And it demands one dealing with the problems of people today, who are often so different than they were before 30 years ago. Our actions, our reactions and answers must be different. There are no ready-made, permanent solutions, everything is changing and in constant change.Also and especially religious life. Because if the external forms and circumstances also change, our inner mission always remains the same! And that is why religious are there at all times called to be prophets, i.e. the present with all its needs and problems in the light to see God and from this point of view to offer answers and solutions, often are not understood, ridiculed or even fought. But the world is waiting for it and she also expects from us: “The task of religious life … is to translate the great questions of life in the language of all areas of life … Is religious life itself religious enough to get you back to the gospel instead of going to the institutions focus, which certainly characterized it most in the past, but in this new era anchored elsewhere and are more part of the culture than acting prophetically towards it.”

(to be continued….)

Sr.M. Petra Ladig