Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Secular Institutes: The Vocation of the Third Millenium?

Just a short post tonight because I'm still thinking a lot about this, but I was doing some research today about the whole issue of non-Institutional ways of living vocations in the Church, and the idea of Secular Institutes once again came up as appealing, though it is perhaps an irony that they are called "Institutes"...as they are the least "institutional" form of society of consecrate life I can imagine.

Secular Institutes are a relatively new form of consecrated life in the Church, which began to develop in the 19th century and were given definitive canonical standing under Pius XII with the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia. Members take vows or promises (the exact canonical manifestation varies between different Institutes) of poverty, celibate chastity, and obedience, but do not live in community. Instead, members live their regular lives in the world, having a regular job, and being formed under the direction of their bishop and the Moderator of the institute. Priestly members continue to exercise their ministry in whatever context.

I've come to realize that communal life, as commonly conceived of in the the Church, gets to the heart of a lot of the issues I was talking about when it comes to attempted re-socialization and the creepiness of Total Institutions.

Both monasteries and seminaries are a form of communal living, yet from my conversations with several traditionally-minded young men, it is exactly this communal aspect which is unappealing. Modern American and Western European adults...are used to living independently. Not under the strict scheduling and constant supervision of Authority. While collectivist societies may find that more palatable, in the modern West, lots of adults find that idea suffocating and creepy.

Secular Institutes are a nice option in this regard, and they are touted by their promoters as the "vocation of the Third Millennium" perhaps for this very Individualistic and Independent aspect. Though they are supposed to have a central house somewhere in the world, and may voluntarily live with other members for mutual support in some sort of arrangement, most members of Secular Institutes live alone in their own dioceses, in their own houses or apartments, working regular jobs. There is no habit, and sometimes they have a policy of not disclosing their membership to others. Their goal is to be a leaven in the world, leading a life both consecrated, and secular.

Though I knew there were Secular Institutes for diocesan priests, I recently learned that there are even some Secular Institutes which train their own priests. The Schoenstatt Fathers is one such group, though incardination to a secular institute rather than the dioceses is by indult of the Holy See. I'm not sure how seminary formation works in such a situation, though I do know that some religious congregations that don't have their own seminary send their theology students to other Catholic seminaries and, rather than have them board at the seminary, have them commute (if the community is close enough) or have a "House of Theology" near the school where members of that community live while studying there. The 25 religious congregations that send their members to Catholic Theological Union in Chicago mainly use such a model. Such a model for a secular institute (whose Theology House would necessarily be more keyed to the independent secular life) could be a way to avoid the problems of the Total Institution dynamic of seminary life.

I know of no Secular Institute (yet) which is traditionalist liturgically in the same way as the FSSP and other traditionalist Societies of Apostolic Life (sort of the opposite of Secular Institutes; they live communally but are not consecrated by vows). Certainly none that trains priests or anything like that.

Anyway, an interesting topic to muse about...


Peter said...

I ended up on you website via the Reditus (Arturo Vasquez) blog. I would consider myself a renegade trad as well, as far as labels go. I am a Schoenstatter as well, and was interested at your mention of Schoenstatt in your post. There are various forms of secular institutes lived out in Schoestatt-- from the website:

"The Secular Institutes are communities of consecrated life, that is, they have committed themselves to a surrender to God in the spirit of the Evangelical Counsels according to their state of life (virginal or matrimonial). They possess a marked secular character, that is, they live their ideal of surrender to God amidst the world. Among them are: the Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt Fathers, the Secular Institute of Diocesan Priests, the Secular Institute of the Brothers of Mary, the Secular Institute of the Sisters of Mary, the Institute of Our Lady of Schoenstatt and the Secular Institute of Families."

The secular institutes are an interesting development in the life of the Church, maybe they are the witness the modern world needs.

A Sinner said...

I agree! I'm finding the idea more and more appealing.

My main emphasis was on the idea that secular institutes, as opposed to societies with community life...are actually not so "institutional". In that they allow for independent living and freedom of motion instead of strict regimentation, conformism, etc.

That people can live alone and lead their lives and be considered in a state of canonical perfection without being, essentially, incarcerated and treated like children, as I fear is the case in many seminaries and monasteries...

Of course, from what I can tell, the Schoenstatt Fathers, at least, DO structure their formation program basically just like a Religious Congregation would...with a live-in novitiate and theologate for 8 years...so there is obviously a lot of flexibility in the Secular Institute model.

But for many Institutes, even the formation is carried out "in the world" with the candidate still living their life, but in consultation with another member as a sort of apprenticeship, or with a priest approved by the moderator and bishop as spiritual director, etc. The non-boarding models of formation are especially what I am interested in.