Amy HEREFORD, CSJ, Religious Life at the Crossroads: A School for Mystics and Prophets. Maryknoll,New York: Orbis Books, 2013. pp.206. $20.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-62698-048-8. Reviewed by Shannon SCHREIN, Lourdes University, Sylvania, OH 43560

In this important book, Amy Hereford, CSJ provides a balanced and historically grounded examination of the ongoing evolution of Religious Life. At a time when Consecrated Religious Life appears to be on the decline, Hereford offers a clear view of what has been and how culture, economics and more especially changing models in the Church have led to revisioning and even the refounding of religious congregations. 

In the opening chapters, Hereford presents the forms religious life has taken over the centuries and the significant contribution of each new movement. The reader is treated to a profile of important founders and foundresses and the new elements they incorporated into their particular vision of Religious Life. She demonstrates the significance of the call to renewal that emerged from the Second Vatican Council and the manner in which Religious responded and took up the mission to renew congregational life.  Another result of the Council, noted well in Hereford’s exploration, involved the emergence of ecclesial communities, lay movements that evolved from a variety of needs in the Church.  She discusses the New Monasticism, an off-shoot of the work of Deitrich Bonhoffer, the blossoming of the Taizé Community founded by Brother Roger and The Catholic Worker Movement of Dorothy Day, to name only a few of those communities that continue to grow and take in new members.

Perhaps the most significant contribution that Hereford makes is in the area of reimagining new forms of Religious Life.  She gets to the heart of congregational living in chapter three: charism, community, connectivity, consciousness and contemplation.  These common threads are essential to community cohesiveness, ongoing commitment to mission and service.  They are the backbone of Religious Life and provide the structure for extending discipleship to those with whom and to whom sisters, brothers and priests minister. Along with these important elements, Hereford considers the vows and their significance in the Church and in the life of the individual. She sees the life-enhancing value of the vows and the manner in which they provide the framework for Gospel living.  Also included in her assessment of the vows is a candid look at the twelve marks of the New Monasticism.  They reflect Religious Life at its core while making the challenge of this form of lifestyle also available through commitment to an Ecclesial Movement. Religious Life serves as the template for service and vowed dedication.  The elements of the New Monasticism demonstrate a new way of living the vows and challenge Religious Congregations to re-envision their way of life.

Amy Hereford’s work will be beneficial to Religious women and men who are thinking deeply about Religious Life and its future in the Church. Younger members will find her examination of the evolution of Religious Life and its regular renewal both helpful and hopeful. The call to “refound” Religious Life in the 21st Century is very important to the Church.  Religious have always answered the call and in service have founded educational and health care systems.  They have blessed the people of God in countless ways.  They stand ready to do it again.  Certainly, God, who has begun a great work in them, will continue to bless their endeavors. Look to the light that shines in the lives of those who have, are and will in the future say yes to the call to Consecrated Religious Life.