StabilityHome > Fr_Thomas > Stability
The vow that distinguishes the Benedictine Order from the Dominicans, Franciscans and Jesuits is that monks take a vow of stability. They promise that they will remain in the same monastery forever. This being said, monks can accept temporary assignments outside the monastery or study away, and even take vacations. It simply means that a monk will spend the majority of their lives connected to just one place.
Religious priests, brothers and sisters fall into one of two categories: those who live in monasteries and those who are itinerate or mobile. While once upon a time, most Catholics were like monks, spending their entire lives in one town and a single parish. In the last fifty years, however, society has become much more mobile, like friars and the apostolic orders. Few of us spend our entire lives in one city or parish. We can thank the mass production of the automobile for this societal shift. This mobility, or lack of stability, has a noticeable effect on congregations.
When parishioners spend their entire lives in one parish, i.e., baptized, confirmed, married and eventually buried in one church, there is a solid sense of ownership. These people take pride in their church. They get involved and support their church. On the negative side, this possessiveness can make them suspicious of outsiders and new ideas. If you visit a Benedictine Monastery, you will observe the regularity of their lives. Even as a Dominican, I am occasionally invited to participate in their life for a few days or week, but always with the understanding that I am a guest/visitor. This is their community and I am given the privilege to engage it.
Communities, like Newman, which tend to be much more transient with college students and university faculty, are like friars coming and going. It is interesting that one of the major complaints I hear about itinerants is this coming and going of the clergy impedes building strong relationships between parishioners and their priests. Transient communities are used to a certain amount of flux, but this continual change can also be a liability. Without the roots of stability, will itinerant parishioners invest the time, energy and financial resources to support a local faith community?
The secret of St. Dominic and his itinerant preachers was prayer. While St. Dominic rejected the stability of the monastery for his friars, he did preserve the prayer life of the monks. It was prayer which was to keep us stable in transient times. In the midst of the mobility of our own lives, perhaps it is our common prayer and worship which keeps us grounded and stabilized.