O'Murchu's Consecrated Religious Life confronts traditional historical and current paradigms and criticizes our entrepreneurial bent on life as self-destructive on a number of levels. What results from replacing a "reward-economy" with a "creativity-economy" is a paradigm-in-transition. We are left with a sense that the future path of the life of the Religious is not entirely certain.
Though not directly cited, in the tradition of Habermas and similar Neo-Marxists, the book examines the evils of a contemporary classist society and how we need to fight against the patriarchal, capitalistic model. It is all about power and retainment of it by those who stand to gain. Religion, not unlike other social institutions, plays right into this, espousing and reinforcing the imperial value-system (pg. 27).
Life is posed for the Religious as, above all else, an unambiguous assertion of the primacy of God in human life. These men and women are "intoxicated with God" (pg. 31). Some of the figures given in the book, such as human life appearing "around six million years ago" (passim) would be called sharply into question by experts in the field, however. Evolutionary specialists, especially anthropologists, describe human life in the homo sapiens form as coming to the fore around 600,000 years ago, and homo erectus around 1.5-1.8 million years ago (see Berger, 2000:42-43).
There is a great deal of repetition in the presentation of the dominance of the status quo and the evils of patriarchy. Instead, can we take an active approach by exploring in-depth the plausible alternatives? Some are suggested, but need to be posited more strongly.
One of the more interesting arguments proposed is that of suffering. The Religious wish to hit it head on and end it. The health care profession, on the other hand, prays on it. Pharmaceutical companies and medical personnel would literally not exist without sickness. And so, we are presented with the dualism of the world. We indeed struggle against each other for opposite ends, time and time again.
The overwhelmingly lay church receives attention in the examination of priestly power and dominance (while priests compose only .05% of the total church population). The pattern of the church is predicted to become even more lay and more feminine with time (60% of all Catholic theologians by 2015 will be lay, with three-quarters of those being women — pg. 91).
Shifting paradigms continue with the exclusion of women and their disgruntlement. Creation-spirituality is offered as the "new" paradigm and an answer to past and present woes in the Catholic Church. The feminization of God is suggested as an outcome of this approach (moving away from judgment and more toward gentle wisdom). The "unhealed pain" of women continues to be addressed throughout the book. "Women in the vowed life" are especially accented (pp. 114-117). Charism, and how the duty associated with it has changed with time to a "justice-making" focus, is also given its due. On the faith-to-justice continuum, O'Murchu falls squarely on the justice/action end.
In a particularly strong section, prophetic voice is poetically captured in a discussion of earthly spirituality: "We are creatures of the clay, carrying living stardust within our bodies, and nourished each day with the photosynthetic giftedness of sunlight, water, and air" (pg. 157). Begotten from God then, we BELONG to God. In other words, we (and especially the Religious) are stewards of the earth. It is the greatest spiritual challenge to protect what we have been rewarded with—a fragile, nature-filled, magnificent planet.
Ways of living among the Religious community are explored in some depth. Formation at an early age (teens) and thus being "stuck" at that age emotionally is touched upon, but could be examined in greater depth. A study could be conducted of those who enter religious life at various ages, and the eventual mental health picture of those same adults could be captured later on. A driving question seems to be whether or not we are suspending maturity by encouraging young vocations. The discussion of celibacy that follows never completely broaches this point—but in a number of ways it is subtly suggested.
A good section late in the book addresses the action-component of religious life in terms of "justice-making." Passive commitment to justice without action is, in itself, a sin. This leads to a rephrasing of the vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience, now a vow for mutual sustainability, a vow for relatedness, and a vow for mutual collaboration.
In the last section, the cultivation of "interiority" is discussed, and out of it, a healthy recommendation blooms. We need to "reclaim some inner space in our (crazy) lives. We need to allow time to just "be," in the solitude and still of mystery" (pp. 246-247). Without peace on the inside, we cannot handle the often chaotic outside with the calm that keeps us steady, resolute, and forward-thinking.
This is a book that can be offered as a guide for discussion to those in religious orders as well as those who wish to peer inside the current challenges faced by the Religious in a world moving almost daily at warp-speed.