Rorate Caeli

Reviving Religious Life in Britain – and Across the West (Guest Article by Fr Armand de Malleray, FSSP)

Whitby Abbey

Article by Fr Armand de Malleray, FSSP, first published in  Dowry Magazine No43: For the benefit of our readers outside Great-Britain, the assessment and remedies offered in this article apply outside of Britain; indeed throughout our formerly Christian Western countries.


Better is one day in Thy courts above thousands. How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! my soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord.’ This Introit (at the beginning of the Mass on the 14th Sunday after Pentecost) expresses the desire of our souls to spend our lives closer to God, actually to dwell in God’s house, as an anticipation of the blessed dwelling promised to us in God’s celestial courts if we die in His grace.

This is why some Catholics will come to church every day. They do well. Even outside of Holy Mass, they will enter a Catholic church daily and pray to God truly present there. Other Catholics want more. They want more than simply observing God’s commandments. They choose to embrace God’s counsels as well. They want to spend their entire lives in close proximity to where God dwells. They withdraw from the secular world and organise their lives together as religious communities. Their lives focus on prayer, religious study, penance and works of charity.

They want to give God every possible space in their hearts, in their days and nights. To that end, they renounce earthly possessions through the vow of poverty. They give up the goods of marriage and family bonds through the vow of chastity. Lastly, through the vow of obedience, they offer up to God their own will as a beautiful sacrifice to follow the will of God in all things through the legitimate will of their superiors.

Such is the religious state. It is a blessing for those called to it. But it is also a blessing for those who witness it. Why is it so?

The religious state is a blessing for all, because it sets a higher standard of perfection. It encourages all in the world to aspire to a closer union with God while on earth, so as to enjoy it forever in heaven. Since our human nature is fallen we constantly lean towards the easier options, to the peril of our souls. This soon leads us to venial sins and ultimately to mortal sins. On the contrary, the presence of religious men and women near us demonstrates to us that one can be blessedly fulfilled in poverty, chastity and obedience. Religious life manifests spiritual freedom on our doorstep. And we all crave spiritual freedom. Contemplative religious also pray for their fellow-Catholics in the world and welcome visitors in their retreat centres, providing much-needed havens of silence and prayer. Apostolic religious contribute actively to evangelisation as mobile and flexible missionaries who can be deployed at short notice to serve the needs of a given parish or diocese.

Secular clerics must be even holier

What of priests who are not in monastic life, one may ask? Are they dispensed from following the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience? On the contrary, even without taking the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as religious do, secular clerics have an even greater obligation than religious to strive for perfection. ‘Greater interior sanctity is needed for that very noble ministry in which Christ Himself is served in the sacrament of the altar, than is needed for the religious state. … Thus a cleric in sacred orders would, other things being equal, sin more grievously if he should do anything against sanctity than a religious who is not in sacred orders, although the lay religious is bound to regular observances to which those in sacred orders are not bound’ (cf St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 2-2, q. 184, a. 8).

This commitment of secular clerics to the evangelical counsels (whether in dioceses or in communities such the Oratorians, the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter or the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest) is manifested in the three prayers traditionally said when dressing every morning. First, for the cassock: ‘O Lord, the portion of my inheritance and my chalice, You are He who will restore my inheritance to me. Amen.’ This prayer expresses the cleric’s dying to worldly possessions, for the sake of gaining Christ and being granted access to the Father’s eternal kingdom. Indeed, the black cassock can be seen as a shroud separating the man of God from earthly goods. Second, when putting on the collar, the cleric prays: ‘Set me under your sweet yoke, O Lord, and that of Mary your Mother.’ This prayer asks for the virtue of obedience. The submission of the will is joyful and fruitful when intended to conform to the will of the Sovereign High Priest Jesus Christ and of His Immaculate Mother. This surrender will bear the fruit of humility and meekness, after Christ the High Priest who taught: ‘Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart... For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.’ Third, when tying the cincture around his waist, the cleric says: ‘Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity, and quench in my heart the fire of concupiscence, that the virtue of continence and chastity may abide in me.’ We can admire the wisdom of Holy Mother Church, no doubt speaking for Our Lady herself, who knows well how necessary the virtue of chastity is for those who are to imitate the virginal Saviour.

Saving one’s soul for heaven

Let us summarize our human condition. Configuration to Christ is necessary for salvation. Life in heaven is the real life, while life on earth prepares for it. We must then organise our life on earth as an anticipation of heaven, free from the allurements of created goods. This is best secured through the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. Christ practised them; religious orders implement them in various ways, whether contemplative or apostolic.

St Ignatius Loyola affirms that, ‘We must praise highly religious life, virginity, and continency; and matrimony ought not be praised as much as any of these.[i] Certainly, marriage and family life are excellent things, willed and blessed by God. In our day and age, the married state requires heroic virtues to be lived in perfection. Thank God for the courageous spouses and parents who give us such an example of fidelity and dedication. Matrimony and religious life are not in concurrence with each other, but mutually beneficial. Together they flourish – or deteriorate. But religious life is a more radical surrender to God. It is like stepping hand-free into eternity even before judgement. When we die, we will bring nothing with us but our good works and our merits. We will have nothing to present God with but His very grace, inasmuch as we will have welcomed it while on earth.

God calls no one to religious life as an escape from the hardships of marriage and factory or office work. Cloisters are no places for self-seekers. Cowls do not fit cowards. But a sober awareness of one’s limitations combined with a painful experience of the seductiveness of modern society makes religious life a wise option. Fallen men and women are more likely to save their immortal souls in a community mandated by the Church for that explicit purpose. If such was the case in the bygone days of Christendom, how much more favourable is religious life in our times of institutionalised vice and of state-of-the-art temptations!

How many lonely young men, sitting on their beds late at night, wish they had the courage not to visit certain websites on their smartphones… Let these youngsters run to the cloisters instead, where their cells will be computer-free but crucifix-fitted, and where in a communal room the Internet will be used only, if at all, to order new candles and incense or to answer prayer requests left on the community’s website.

How many young women, weary of hoping for a trustworthy partner, will reluctantly slip in their handbag the pills they should never had bought in the first place on their way to that party, feeling that ‘there seems to be no other way to get a man’s attention’. Let them fly to a good convent instead. There, their faces adorned with comely wimple and veil, their hearts supported through sisterly friendship and enthused with holy purity, they will strive under the constant protection of the manliest of friends, the Lord Jesus for Whom every trusting soul is unique: ‘One is my dove, my perfect one’ (Canticle 6:8).

Weighing pros and cons

What if one fails though? What if one enters a religious community and sooner or later leaves it? Will it not be a waste of time? Will not people in the world laugh at such misfits, who thought themselves holier until, having hit the ceiling of their lofty dreams, they come down to earthly reality?

These concerns are valid. Prudence is needed, especially as regards the completion of studies before applying to a noviciate – if a genuinely Catholic university chaplaincy is available. The advice of parents must be also considered out of the piety owed to them. However, parents have a duty to support vocations to consecrated life among their children and should welcome it as a grace from God for their entire family. If a child is the only support left on earth to his parents in their old age or disability, then the care of them takes precedence, and answering the call must be postponed as long as necessary. Furthermore, acquiring some life experience is useful in answering the call with less naivety and, once professed, to be protected against regrets born of an idealised perception of life in the world.

On the other hand, a religious calling (or a call to the priesthood) is a grace from God, both precious and fragile. Using the arguments listed above as excuses to cover up one’s selfishness, ambition or cowardice would be gravely sinful. In addition, our fallen condition and the persuasive malice of modern society must be countered through a greater trust and generosity when considering a possible call. As to being mocked as misfits: I personally know of several men and women who left their communities while still on formation and are now fulfilled as spouses and parents, while lending their spiritual experience to contribute actively to the life of their local parish or diocese. Provided they left for the right reasons, the discernment stage in their lives will have been an enrichment benefitting them and the wider Church. On the opposite front, one cannot try marriage, since the commitment lasts as long as one’s spouse lives. People in the world can join third-orders whereby they share in the spirituality and in some privileges of religious orders as tertiaries or oblates.[ii] But this option will benefit only those who find that they must remain in the world after having completed due discernment.

Assuredly, a traditional Catholic view is that each and every adolescent and young adult should earnestly and over a period of time ponder before God with the help of a trusted priest whether they should enter Holy Orders or religious life. The freer from sentimental attachment one is at the time of discernment (and from vice even more so), the more reliably one will detect God’s response.

Some of the bitter consequences of the current sexual abuse crisis might have a cleansing effect by God’s permission. One of them is fewer candidates wrongly applying for the sake of prestige and status. On the contrary, becoming a religious or a priest nowadays supposes that one will bear some of the opprobrium incurred by other consecrated people for their crimes. This is not without redemptive merit, after the example of the Saviour who, although innocent, was reviled and died for the sins of all men. However, those in civil society who truly thirst after justice will not despise a priest or religious for the sake of his habit, but rather will expect him or her to be faithful to the worthy purpose of his or her consecrated state.     

Where to apply near us?

How to answer a call to religious life in post-Christian Britain though, since most religious orders are in catastrophic decline with few remaining members below seventy years of age? Sadly this is part of the crisis which has been affecting the Church over the past sixty years. There are much fewer monasteries and convents than in the 1950s. Every month, some close down. Their handsome architectures and spacious grounds, funded in ages of faith with the widow’s mite, now make attractive spa-hotels while some of the few young religious orders lack facilities. The vast amounts of money generated by the sale of this real estate patrimony to developers is immediately spent to cover the cost of healthcare for the elderly members of the community (often the majority); or even to pay the huge fines incurred by those convicted of crimes. The buildings still in religious use have often very few monks or sisters left, most of whom are generally near retiring age. How did it come to this?

All orders have fallen victim of the aggiornamento which, sixty years ago, was sold to the Bride of Christ as a rejuvenating unguent. The famous works of fiction by Anglican clergymen Jonathan Swift and Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) can help us illustrate this spiritual metamorphosis. From the 1960s onward, many a religious sister felt as if having swallowed Alice in Wonderland’s ‘Eat Me’ cake. We can picture a hypothetical ‘Abbess Alice’ subsequently growing out of proportion with her religious environment. Like Carroll’s heroin, she suddenly feels constrained by the rule, the cloister and customs of her order as if they had shrunk around her soul. The change in her habit expresses this, as its sleeves withdraw from knuckles to elbows, its hem from heels to below knee and its veil from shoulders to nape; until civilian clothes replace it entirely. This quick evolution simultaneously affects her imaginary counterpart ‘Prior Gulliver’ whom we now observe waking up in his cell one morning as Swift’s character in Lilliput, strongly tied down with invisible strings, that is, the religious observances which in his eyes modernity turns into contemptible hindrances. Like in Swift’s tale, ‘Prior Gulliver’ eventually manages to break his bonds, emerging a ‘free’ man. He ends up either deserting his monastery or ‘modernising’ it, that is, pruning and purging his monastic life frame from its ‘medieval accretions’.

Many saintly founders of once flourishing communities would today have difficulty recognising the constitutions, habit, horarium, liturgy, enclosure, diet and curriculum they had prescribed under divine inspiration with the Holy See’s subsequent approval. If the same founders knocked at the door, not all their sons and daughters would recognise, welcome and follow them. Here in Britain, religious life was nearly wiped out once by the Saxons, later by the Danes, then by the Protestants. But this time, we did it to ourselves. We thought we knew better how to stay alive and even how to grow: instead, oblivious of the treasures we discarded, now we die.

White martyrdom

Over the past decades, while scores of thousands of contemplative and apostolic religious were leaving their monasteries and convents, many others stayed on with heroic obedience and hope. Noticing the painful contradictions with their founders’ intuitions and the approved customs of their orders, these religious either doubted or opposed the new ways, but remained in any case. Why did they not leave? Because they knew that religious life is essential to the Church and because they trusted that God would make them bear fruit according to His holy will. Thus, they were stripped of the cherished traditions which had attracted them in the first place to this order or that convent, and which had shaped their calling and guided their response for the love of God and neighbour.

Not a few underwent this process in imitation of the Saviour’s stripping of His garments. According to tradition, Our Lady had spun with her virginal hands the seamless tunic for her Son Jesus. After Our Lord’s example, these religious found themselves exposed to the contempt of the world and soon nailed to the Cross in spirit. In communities whose raison d’être was divine worship, they had to undergo the impoverishing of the liturgy, soon disfigured through trite innovations or even disgraceful improvisations. Most priest religious stopped offering individually the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, while non-priests were bullied through liturgical anarchy. Enclosed nuns in particular were at the mercy of whichever celebrant would be assigned to them, and were often subjected to his liturgical abuses and doctrinal whims – a bitter paradox for an age claiming to free up Catholic women from ‘clerical oppression’. Simultaneously, within orders whose charism was intellectual more than liturgical, orthodox members were subjected to the no less painful process of doctrinal deformation. Those who would not promote modern ambiguities and errors would be intimidated, ridiculed, pushed aside, and forbidden to publish and to teach.

As the years went by, these pitiable religious (whether contemplative or apostolic) must have offered up their silent and unnoticed sufferings for the welfare of the Church and the glory of God. Many died of sadness, heartbroken, clinging in bitter desolation to the promise they had once received as novices, long before, when the One calling them to the religious state had whispered to their young souls: ‘Never will I abandon you’. Please God, as they closed their weary eyes they heard His voice again: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant... enter thou into the joy of thy Lord’ (Mt 25:20) – of Him whose Sacred Heart was also pierced for the sins of all men. They were in good company if they suffered with Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart, with her whose white martyrdom co-redeemed the world. Secular clergy who offered up similar trials endured in the context of their seminaries, parishes, deaneries and dioceses are included in our gratitude. The sacrifices of so many such religious, nuns, seminarians, priests and even bishops constitute a treasury of merits stored up in God’s mercy for the new generation to use.

The traditional few

In various countries from the 1970s onwards, notably in France, other religious were inspired to found distinct communities where the time-proofed traditions of the Church would be upheld. To them as well the younger generations are indebted. With patience, humility and perseverance, they demonstrated that the Roman traditions could still be followed in communion with the Church and for the benefit of souls. However, such communities are as yet comparatively few. If then one wishes to be formed traditionally, and to worship according to the traditional Roman liturgy in full canonical communion with the Church, the options are even fewer in this country. Those who like to have habitually the traditional liturgy can apply for the Marian Franciscan Friars and Sisters in Gosport, the Institute of Christ the King (for French-speakers), or the Benedictines of Silverstream Priory in Ireland. Men who want simply the traditional Latin liturgy can join the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer in Scotland, or the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter (candidates for both communities are formed at the same English-speaking seminary in Denton, Nebraska). Women can join the Carmels of Lanherne in Cornwall; or of Birkenhead (Liverpool) where the traditional Latin Mass if now offered daily. Less than three hours east from London outside Saint-Omer, the dying Benedictine abbey of St Paul-de-Wisques was saved from closure six years ago when traditional monks from Fontgombault took it over (cf Dowry N°21, Spring 2014). Could not this option be tried in England before it is too late for our dear Benedictine monasteries?

This gives hope, but it still is insufficient, especially to satisfy apostolic vocations. What if a traditionally-minded Catholic in Britain aspires to join a teaching or nursing order such as the Salesians or the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, or a preaching one such as the Jesuits and the Dominicans? Over the years, I have also encountered a certain number of young men who were not called by God to become priests but who would have strived as lay brothers if only that option had existed at the time. It was suppressed in most religious communities since the 1970s through a misguided sense of equality claiming that ‘everybody had to be priests’ or choir nuns. In effect, such upgrading denied the distinctiveness of a lay religious vocation. Paradoxically, this ‘democratic’ change forbade religious life for all such young men (and women). They live the best they can while remaining in the world, although deprived of the specific frame of sanctification which they aspired to. This is unfair on them and detrimental to society. Had they been allowed to become consecrated people with that distinctive status, they would no doubt have grown into great spiritual assets to their communities and to the Church, as the earlier history of religious communities amply demonstrates.

The time to found has come

Such a lack of options compared with the needs of a Catholic population under growing ideological pressure suggests a possibility that can no longer be ruled out. Namely, the young generation may be called to found its own orders, or re-found or import some. Extreme caution is needed here against pride, rashness, inexperience and illusions. God is the one who calls to religious life, and also the one who can raise founders and foundresses in a given time and country. But when devout Catholics look at the urgent needs, it is timely for them to beg God for a revival of religious life here in Britain. It is inspiring to learn the history of religious expansion in our country. It is pious to ask God that He may deign to make use of one, however wanting in skills and virtues, to restore religious life throughout the land.

Walk in their footsteps

This will not sound like wishful thinking if one only considers historical precedents in the life of the Church in this country: 

In 305, the young Protomartyr of England St Alban gave up his life to allow a missionary priest to continue the work of evangelisation.

In 563, St Columba of Ireland founded a monastery on the western Scottish island of Iona.

The Roman monk St Augustine of Canterbury landed in Kent in 597, and monasteries became established throughout England, notably in Lindisfarne with the saintly bishops and monks Aidan and Cuthbert.

In 660, martyrdom-survivor St Winifred was abbess in Wales; in 664 St Hilda, abbess of the double monastery of Whitby, hosted a Synod decisive for English Catholicism; while in 673 St Etheldreda founded a double monastery at Ely.

At the monastery of Jarrow in 731, St Bede the Venerable completed his Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

English monks spread the faith far outside England, to mention here only the 8th St Willibrord (†739) and St Boniface (†754) evangelised The Netherland and Germany. In 782, the monk Alcuin of York – ‘the most learned man anywhere to be found’ – became the main advisor to Emperor Charlemagne, fostering the Carolingian renaissance across Europe.

Arrived in 1077 soon after the Conquest, the Order of Cluny was running twenty-four monasteries in England 58 years later.

St Stephen Harding, in the 12th century, co-founded the Cistercian order which spread fantastically with one hundred houses founded within his lifetime, the first in England at Waverley, Surrey (1128). The Premonstratensians followed, with up to thirty houses across England.

In 1181 St Hugh of Lincoln became Prior of the first Carthusian monastery founded in England.
In 1184, the Knight Templars’ headquarters was established in London, their round church still standing between Fleet Street and the River Thames.

At Aylesford Carmelite Priory in Kent in 1251, St Simon Stock, General of his order, received the Brown Scapular from Our Lady.

In the same 13th century, the mendicant orders founded by St Dominic and by St Francis started in England. Our streets and monuments still bear the names of Blackfriars (Dominicans), Whitefriars (Carmelites), Greyfriars (Franciscans) and Austin Friars (Augustinians).

And when all seemed lost

In the sixteenth century, once the Church had been wiped out from British land through the tyranny of a lustful monarch supported by the greed of his entourage, everything seemed lost from a human perspective. And yet, God in His mercy called into action amazing initiatives of apostolic zeal, turning the blood of his religious martyrs into an ink of fire to write some of the most memorable pages of English history, sowing the seeds of the rebirth granted to the modern era.

From the 16th century onwards, during the Protestant revolt and subsequent persecution of the Church, the newly founded Jesuits laboured for Christ across this land: notably Ss Edmund Campion, Robert Southwell, John Ogilvie; Fr John Gerard, and many other scholars, martyrs and educators. Older orders also gave many martyrs and confessors.

In the 19th century, when the Catholic faith ceased to be persecuted, female religious communities appeared and multiplied, taking care of children, of the poor, of the sick, and of the elderly. Let us list just a few of them: Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre, Franciscans Tertiaries, Poor Clares, Augustinians (Austin Dames), Carmelites, Cistercians, Visitation Nuns, Faithful Companions of Jesus, Ursulines of Jesus, Presentation Nuns, Sisters of Mercy, Good Shepherd Sisters, Sacred Heart Nuns, Providence (Rosminians), Notre Dame de Namur, Infant Jesus, Holy Child Jesus, Charity of St Paul, Franciscans of Immaculate Conception… – and four times more!

In the North West for instance, Bl. Dominic Barberi was assisted by Elizabeth Prout, later Mother Mary Joseph, the foundress of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion.

Further in the 19th century, the Oratorians arrived. The Oratory was founded in Rome around 1552 by St Philip Neri, and imported into England by Bl. John-Henry Newman who founded the first Oratorian congregation in Birmingham in 1848, followed the following year by a second house in London; now also in Oxford, Manchester, York, Bournemouth, Cardiff…

For the Catholic education of boys, schools were founded by Benedictine monks as well as by the Salesians of Don Bosco, De la Salle Brothers and more.

In 1883, French Carthusians in exile founded the largest Charterhouse in the world in Parkminster, West Sussex. In 1903, the Tyburn Nuns arrived in London, also in exile from France, followed by many French religious.

From 1904 until her death in 1942, Mother Mary of Jesus, a French Carmelite née Madeleine Dupont, founded no less than thirty-three Carmels across England – more than St Teresa of Avila herself.

In 1911, Blessed Mother Elisabeth Hesselblad founded in England a new branch of the Bridgettine order.

More recently, convents of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity spread, taking care of the homeless. In London the Sisters readily attended the traditional Mass when offered for them.
Finally, in the year of the Lord 2019, with trembling and confident joy, you knocked at the door of…

Mystic Monks vs. Starbucks

Once on the wall of a retreat centre was displayed a large framed map of religious houses across medieval Britain. Literally everywhere one could see the symbols for monasteries, abbeys, priories, nunneries, commanderies etc. Most of them would have had attached to them a school, a hostelry for pilgrims or a hospital for the sick and poor. They were depicted on the map in various sizes and colours according to the religious order they belonged to: Cluniacs, Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Templars, Carthusians, Premonstratensians, etc. They shone as so many stars, an amazing constellation of powerhouses of consecration to God and of service to neighbours. How many of those still stand as houses of Catholic prayer and charity? What have we replaced them with? Supermarkets? Cinemas? A modern equivalent would be the map of coffee shops, spreading across the UK quicker than the Cistercian abbeys of old: light blue for Caffè Nero, dark blue for Costa, light green for Greggs, dark green for Pret A Manger, red for Wild Bin Café and pink for Starbucks Coffee. What we do not have yet in England is the Mystic Monk Coffee, a brand successfully started by the newly-founded traditional Carmelite friars in Wyoming, USA. What now? We cannot revert to the medieval map of religious Britain. Can we catholicise the Starbucks Coffee map instead? Yes we can. By God’s grace: reduce coffee; drop the bucks; reach for the stars.

Starting near you

Dear younger friends in particular, the holy traditions of the Church are time-proof means of sanctification and of configuration to Christ. Your generation has the wonderful privilege of widening the use of these holy traditions across the country. You are the ones who will found, re-found, restore religious life or innovate according to the time-proofed traditions, customs and virtues of Catholicism.

Through the mercy of God and the prayers of many, this may well have started already. As we write, three more young men from England and Northern Ireland have begun formation to the sacred priesthood at our international seminary in America. Over the past month, five young women in England, separately, shared with us their resolution to enter religious life very soon, while a sixth one just began her postulancy. Simultaneously, not far from us, three more young men are about to start life in common to discern the will of God. And surely there are many more young people elsewhere in Britain preparing for such wonderful commitments; and even more of them wishing for it, who only wait for a signal. Something is happening. Now is the signal. Reach out. Do not remain isolated. Contact us. We will assist you. The time has come for the younger generation to enter the lists of consecrated life.

Now, in post-Christian Britain, now, we need you to revive the failing orders. Read their constitutions and history. Learn the life of their founders and ask for their intercession. Pray for their ageing members who meritoriously persevered during the on-going crisis. We are indebted to them.

New needs call for new orders

If it is God’s will, like in earlier crises of the Church, you will import or start new orders. On the one hand, human nature remains fallen and does not change; neither does God’s response, namely, grace. On the other hand, modernity brings new challenges, calling for inventive solutions. Now, with Catholic education practically forbidden, we need consecrated men and women who will reach out to children and families and teach natural law and divine law. Now, when so many young adults are undermined in their God-given sexual identity, we need consecrated celibates who will care specially for them. Now, with an ever-accelerating consumption and information frenzy, we need contemplatives offering to souls the balm of silence and stillness. Now, with abortion hailed as a right and baby parts on auction, we need new congregations trained specifically for pro-life work and for bio-ethical study. Now, with euthanasia prowling about the elderly and those gravely ill, and soon the disabled as once under Nazi Rule, we need doctor and nurse religious to protect their frailty. Now, with womanhood assassinated through pornography, contraception and feminism, we need female religious embodying the Marian splendour of true womanhood, in fruitful consecration after Our Lady’s example. Now, with shrinking parishes, ageing congregations and dismal liturgies, we need expert clerics to display the sacred mysteries on a full liturgical scale to the glory of God and the edification of worshippers. Now, with Islam and aggressive secularism on a combined rise, we need learned and fearless religious to preach redemption through Jesus the only Saviour, for the love of the triune God.


Dear young friends, do not nibble at life in Christ: embrace it fully. Dive into grace. Enter the lists. For too long you have kept hiding in the wood: now step onto the field. Become a monk. For too long you have sat on the fence: now fend off for Christ and souls. Become a priest. For too long you have hunted short-lived fun: now invest all in everlasting joy. Become a nun.

Leave the world behind, to better lead it to Christ. Step into eternity, embracing Christ’s own way of life, poor, chaste and obedient. Be passionate for the honour of God and the salvation of the souls He redeemed through His Blood. In humble petition to God Almighty, muster the formidable power of intercession of the thousands of saintly British monks, friars, nuns, sisters and priests along the seventeen centuries of British Christianity! None of them was born a saint. Like you they felt inadequate to the task. But they trusted in God, like you should. Ask them. They will obtain for you metamorphoses more wondrous than those mentioned earlier in Swift and Carroll’s fictions: by God’s grace, sitting ducks will become soaring doves and fat calves will be turned into leaping deer: ‘As the hart panteth after the fountains of water; so my soul panteth after thee, O God!’ (Ps 42:21).

Life is short and judgment nigh: begin today. ‘O God, better is one day in Thy courts above thousands. How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! my soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord.’ And may Our Lord and Our Lady, and the countless saints from Britain and Ireland assist you in answering the call, now. □

We heartily recommend as further reading among many other good books:

The Saga of Citeaux, First Epoch: Three Religious Rebels: The Forefathers of the Trappists. Excellently dramatised by Fr. Mary Raymond Flanagan, O.C.S.O., this book illuminates the lives of St. Robert, St. Alberic and St. Stephen Harding, who taught the first Cistercians how to be “gallant to God” and make “no compromises.”

Life of St Thomas À Becket, by Mrs Hope, London: Burns & Oates, 1868.

The Angel of Syon, the Life and Martyrdom of Bl. Richard Reynolds, Bridgettine Monk, by Dom Adam Hamilton OSB, Sands & Co, 1905.

John Gerard, autobiography of an Elizabethan, translated by Philip Caraman, Family Publications, 2006 (cf article in Dowry No 42).

The Last Abbot, by A. F. Webling, Edmund Ward, Leicester, 1944. A poignant dramatised narrative on the end of the great Abbey of St Edmunds in Bury Saint Edmunds under Henry VIII.

Edmund Campion: Jesuit and Martyr, by Evelyn Waugh, 1935.

A Benedictine Martyr in England, Dom John Roberts OSB, by Dom Bede Camm, OSB, London: Bliss, Sands & Co, 1897.

Memoirs of missionary priests, as well secular as regular, and of other Catholics, of both sexes, that have suffered death in England, on religious accounts, from the year of our Lord 1577, to 1684 / gathered, partly from the printed accounts of their lives and sufferings, published by cotemporary authors, in divers languages, and partly from manuscript relations, kept in the archives and records of the English colleges and convents abroad, and oftentimes penned by eye-witnesses of their death, by Richard Challoner, London, 1742.

Ampleforth and its origins, edited by Abbot Justin McCann and Dom Columba Cary-Elwes, London: Burnes Oates & Washbourne, 1952.

The French Exiled Clergy in the British Isles after 1789, by Dom Dominic Aidan Bellenger OSB, Downside Abbey, Bath, England, 1986.
Fr Luigi Gentili and his Mission 1801-1848, by Denis Gwynn, Dublin, Clonmore and Reynolds, 1951. On the Rosminians in England.

Father Dominic Barberi, by Denis Gwynn, Kessinger Publishing, 2010. An inspiring account of the zeal for England of the saint who received John-Henry Newman into the Church.

A Job in Jeopardy, Elizabeth Prout, Foundress of the Sisters of the Cross & Passion, by Sister Barbara Sexton, C.P., Cross & Passion Communications, Salford, 2010. The perseverance of a young English convert who founded the female branch of the Passionists in England.

In the Silence of Mary, The biography of the life and work of Mother Mary of Jesus, Notting Hill Carmel, London, 1964. The life of the French Carmelite who founded 33 Carmels throughout Britain between the years 1907 and 1938.


[i] Rules for Thinking with the Church, #4.

[ii] Communities whose members do not take the three vows are not religious in a canonical sense, neither are the associations of faithful attached to them. However, joining such associations is very beneficial spiritually, e.g. the Confraternity of Saint Peter, whose 7,000 members worldwide pray for priestly vocations and ministry: