Year of Vocation Conference on Religious Life and Call - Final talk


Dublin, 13–15 February 2009

“Back to the Future – or Facing the Future? Survival, Prophecy, Hope.”

Turn your back to the past, turn your face faithfully to the future with verve and vitality. Conversion is turning from; hope is turning to. Are we casting a shadow or facing the light?

Prudence and risk are two sides of a coin, both must be evident. Religious Life requires risk. “The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” (Anais Nin-Chinese proverb).

In proclaiming our religious vows, we pledge to risk everything. Risk can sometimes be foolhardy, immature and reckless. Prudence, more common in older people, can lack the edge / passion / thirst for God’s justice and for God’s poor. Joan Chittister believes that if more took risk, others might find religious life exciting. Risk is not a virtue unless there is the possibility of failure. Risk is the essence of integrated faith life, faith without the edge of reason. Risk makes life again. Now is the time to develop an authentic spirituality of risk, otherwise, we will slip softly into our graves.

Hope is a risk that must be run. We must blossom, the spring is coming. We urgently need to blossom before we die. Early Christians embraced both religious stigmas, signs of social /religious differences and religious sacrifices, commitment to forego opportunities. Vows of Poverty, Chastity, Obedience, are religious stigmas, only if they are lived well. They become the marks of identification with Jesus Christ.

The problem of ‘Free-riders’ is perennial for all groups. There are parasites in every community. Often, membership resembles a ‘Club’ not a community. Commitment to a shared vision creates energy and sharing. Its opposite leads to disappearance.

Need for a Common Project

We need more of a pilgrimage than a project, a faith-based common commitment to search single-mindedly for God; a committed community that can model alternative responses to the great questions of the age. There is need for a critical mass of energy, commitment, zeal and prayer, to form communitas... which is generative, zeal for prophecy, vision, for God’s mission, the founding energy / flame which is fiercely powerful, but short-lived. 25% of the total bodies in community need to have this energy/communitas in order to have this critical mass.

Communitas gradually settles into Community, which is necessary for long-term living and maintenance of systems. Communitas is a beating heart, pumping lungs and life – blood. Without this, a community is close to a dying body. The struck match lasts a moment and dies, unless it is transferred to something organic / flammable. Communitas energy will die if it is not transferred to something flammable – you and me!


Human development will continue to the end of life if we find the meaning of our own life. Who will benefit from our ageing? Not just us, we must pour ourselves out. Our lives are not just for self-actualisation, but for radical altruism. Eric Erikson outlined stages of human development; stage 5 - overcoming stagnation through generativity, stage 6- achieving integrity and facing death. Older people move from being ‘father’ ‘mother’ figures to being grandparents. Are religious called to become ‘grandparents’ to many young people adrift in today’s culture? Are we being invited to mentor a younger generation? Gittin’s offers a further quote from Joan Chittister, “Old age is not a time to settle. Age is not our problem, but atrophy of soul.” It is time to try new things with abandon, with new purpose, new faith and little fear. What is there to loose when it is already lost.


Hope is God-given and God-inspired. There are two kinds of people; those who try out hope, and Christians. We must make a difference as our hope is indefatigable. If faith is a verb, hope is a future tense. With hope, a theological virtue, and God’s grace, we can change the world. Choose life so that you and those after you, live... not twitch fitfully until you die.

Crisis has always been a companion of Christianity. This is how our congregations grew... living with the conviction that we had something marvellous to live for. Christianity is now predominantly non-Western, new shoots, new branches, new life-forms. Many of us must die before we see them. What is needed is not optimism, but hope. Hope comes from a faithful God, as we live with open hands and open hearts. We are called to be sent. We do not take the initiative, it is God’s work. Our faithfulness is measured by our willingness to be disturbed. Our witness is to live reflectively, courageously, with thanks.

“Disturb us O Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves. Push us into the future with courage, hope and love.” (Sir Francis Drake).

“ I am with you always, to the close of the age...” Matthew 28:20

Julie Buckley, smr