Sandra M. SCHNEIDERS, I.H.M., Buying the Field: Catholic Religious Life in Mission to the World. Volume 3 of Religious Life in a New Millennium. New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2013. pp.763. $39.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8091-4788-5. Reviewed by Shannon SCHREIN, Lourdes University, Sylvania, OH 43560
With this volume Sandra Schneiders completes the series Religious Life in a New Millennium a comprehensive examination of the history, evolution and impact of Catholic Religious Life. She engages the reader through Jesus’ parable of the Pearl of Great Price. The beauty and meaning of religious life is considered in Finding the Treasure (Vol. 1), the desire to embrace this life in full commitment and service is explored in Selling All (Vol.2). Finally the treasure is attained in Buying the Field (Vol.3)
Schneiders divides her work into four critical parts. Part one provides a biblical and theological framework for understanding the world to which Religious are missioned. In addition it explores the identity of Religious and the nature of the mission they embrace. Parts two and three carefully examine the vows of prophetic obedience and evangelical poverty. The final part serves as synthesis and presents the transforming renewal of Religious Life in the modern world.
The exquisite and challenging call to Religious Life that is the focus of this study comes from Schneiders’s theological training, but even more so from her passion and lived experience as a Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her perspective lends authenticity and real depth to her research and its insight, breadth and accessibility make it an important work not only for Religious but for those who seek to comprehend the Church in the world and the transformative effects of Religious engaged in the world.
Schneiders proposes that the choice to live Religious Life is a paschal act that calls for “dying to the world” in order to live the Resurrection. This turning from the world of sin and evil, demands the creation of an alternate world that reflects radical living of the Gospel and which favors the Reign of God. The formation of this alternate world is accomplished through a faithful living of the vows of consecrated celibacy, evangelical poverty and prophetic obedience. A detailed look at the biblical roots and historical development of the vows of obedience and poverty are at the heart of this research
The vow of evangelical poverty provides the economic vision for the alternate world of Religious Life. It is described by Schneiders as a gift economy as opposed to a commodity economy where materialism reigns supreme. The vow of poverty, lived in community, changes the view of material goods from objects to be acquired to resources to be shared. In this way, Schneiders notes, “it is a prophetic lifeform in the Church for the sake of the world.”
In like manner, the vow of prophetic obedience is the alternate to power and authority within this world of Religious Life. It is a form of responsibility for it calls for free fidelity in community and mission. Religious freely vow obedience to God in the hands of elected Congregational leaders. It is an exercise of mutuality rather than abject subordination and must be understood in this manner by the Church.
Schneiders has dedicated more than a decade of her life to the project of exploring Religious Life in the new millennium. All Religious can be grateful for her brilliant study and profound insights. This study will also greatly benefit the Church at large and in particular its leaders for it offers a superbly clear and articulate vision of Religious Life today.