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How to save our religious orders

SIR – I am afraid it isn’t quite true that “Buckfast will survive as long as there are any monks at all because it draws a large income from its most famous products” (Ann Widdecombe’s Charterhouse, April 20).

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the survival of a monastic/religious community is not a matter of finance. Once the number of religious under vows reaches a certain low – I think it is three, but am open to correction – the Holy See steps in and says that that community may no longer receive postulants. Having already watched the closure of five contemplative orders in our diocese (which is also Miss Widdecombe’s), I have been told that these ommunities were not short of funds as most of them are very well endowed from centuries past. It is the man- or woman-power that is lacking. Are there now no young people who love God enough to give their whole lives to praising and serving Him alone? Serving God in a charitable organisation will never supply the depth of prayer that a religious community with regular times of prayer can give.

The “temporary vocation” is already available in a sense: it is probably true that no religious order would accept a postulant who asserted from the beginning that he/she only wanted to stay for a limited time. Having said that, many people who think they want to stay for ever will have left before they come to solemn vows, which can be as much as seven years after entrance.

This is sometimes called, informally, a “temporary vocation”, as it can be of great benefit to the person concerned, and indeed to the monastery or convent, but it does not, in the long run, add to the number of professed monks or nuns.

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