"Should We Begin a New Religious Order?"
This is the question that 11 men were asking during the spring of 1539. It wasn’t an easy decision by any means. They spent almost 4 months in a process of discernment which included days of prayer and discussion in accommodations somewhere in the middle of Rome. These men had come to Rome after almost 10 years of friendship together during which they helped each other discern the will of God for each of their lives.
What they had discovered along the way was that God was seemingly knitting them each not only to the companionship of Jesus, but also to each other. The question about whether or not to found a new religious order was before them in part due to the reality of the life they had chosen together, a life of poverty and chastity and service. They came to Rome in order to offer their lives in service of the church at the discretion of the Pope. They had already discerned and chosen their state of life, but the exact form of life, and the means through which they would live it out, was yet to be determined. They conversed together at the end of long days of teaching in the Universities, in the public square, and begging for their daily food.
The short accounts of the founding of The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) will often begin with, “The Society of Jesus was founding in 1540 by St. Ignatius of Loyola…” If you dig a little deeper you’ll see a decade of thinking, praying, and discerning by 7 or 8 of his closest friends (1529-1540) with a lot of hopes and dreams that never came to fruition. Ignatius did not impose his will on the others. "He was just a member of the group, hoping, listening, awaiting the sign of God’s presence through the voices of his friends.” Ignatius was not a leader that set the course for what was ahead. He stewarded those whom God brought his way.
He waited for the provision and power of God to move things forward.
Over the past several months our work with The Order of Sustainable Faith has felt a little like the unseen work of those men during that long decade. I hesitate to make a comparison to the work of the early Jesuits. It feels more than a little presumptuous. But, I must confess that I find solace in knowing the full story behind what would eventually gain a great deal of momentum. Our work with The Order feels slow. And while this is often on purpose, I feel the awkwardness of the slowness in that I’m attempting to model after 16th century sentiments while clearly being someone who has 21st century habits, surrounded by people with 21st century expectations.
As much as I sometimes wonder what it means, we know clearly that God has asked us to begin a new religious order. This statement brings out a lot of questions in people who are wondering what a 21st century monastic expression looks like. We often wonder the same thing, though we trust that God is leading the process. People are being drawn to The Order from all over the country. They are beginning to meet with spiritual directors for the first time, and they are beginning to discern what it might look like to respond to the invitation that God is clearly drawing them into. We’re doing our best to pay attention to the people that God is bringing our way who are expressing interest in our Non-Residential Expression.
In Invitations & Commitments, the Rule of Life for The Order of Sustainable Faith (OSF), we lay out what it means to become a non-residential member:
3.4 Non-Residential Membership
3.4.1 Non-Residential Members will meet with a spiritual director once a month during Postulancy, and every three weeks during the Novitiate Experience. The Rule of Life will be the basis for conversations and spiritual direction.
3.4.2 Non-Residential Members should commit to living this Rule of Life in their present location and context with the ongoing support of a spiritual director and participation in the life of a local church. When possible, participation in the life of a Residential Community during holiday or vacation, is encouraged.
3.5.2 Every member will begin with a 6-month postulancy as a Non-Residential Member.
3.5 Entering into Membership
3.5.1 A Request for membership of the Order will consist of a discernment process between the applicant and the applicant’s spiritual director and/or pastor.
3.5.3 During postulancy, members will review the Rule of Life, meet with a spiritual director, and continue to discern one’s desire for membership within The Order of Sustainable Faith.
As we continue to work and pray our way toward planting a monastery and residential expressions, we're putting our hands to the work of spiritual direction and helping people discern how God might be leading them to join us in membership.