Date Created: 2018-09-05 13:44:15

         The relevance of religious life in the contemporary world is not in doubt because the religious are believed to be consecrated women involved in working for God. This view may not be entirely correct because there is a difference between “Working for God and doing God’s work.” Many people claim to work for God in the world, as a matter of fact anybody can work for God, but not everybody who claims to be working for God is involved in doing God’s work. Personal opinion cannot be adequate in any discussion on the relevance of religious life in the contemporary world; one needs the sacred scriptures, sacred traditions of the Church and the informed views of spiritual masters. Reading through Thomas Green’s book titled: Darkness in the Market Place: The Christian at Prayer in the World. After reading chapter four of the book with the title of this reflection I formed the opinion that the relevance of religious life today and always is in “doing God’s work” as against merely “working for God.”

Scriptural insight:  John’s Gospel paradigm

      In the gospel of John 10: 11-13, Christ makes a distinction between working for God and doing God’s work. The Lord uses the analogy of a shepherd who owns the flock and is ready to lay down his life for the flock and a hired hand who is working for pay who will abandon the flock in time of danger or difficulty.  It is disheartening that many religious today will readily abandon apostolate that is difficult or not yielding enough material gain for their congregation. Such happen because they are “working for God” in the Church but are not involved in “doing God’s work.” They are like the notorious hired herdsman who runs away when he sees wolf coming. When remuneration and personal comfort in the convent become the focus of whether an apostolate should be sustained or not, such religious are simply working for God and not doing God’s work. Any worker in the secular society will have the same mind set. 

    Mother Theresa of Calcutta corroborated the above point when she remarked that: “People mistake the work we do for our vocation; our vocation is the love of Jesus.” From the foregoing, the relevance of religious in the world today is not in the work they do as Nurses, Doctors, Teachers or Pastoral Workers, but in their love of Christ and his Church. As a matter of fact there are hundreds of thousands of lay faithful who are better professionals than religious women in different fields of human endeavour. In professional capacities religious women do work for God effectively but they must go beyond professional jobs and be more involved in “doing God’s work” as signs of holiness of the Church in different capacities they may be involved in the vineyard. Archbishop Gomez an American in his book titled: Men of Brave


Hearts, remarked that: “Our service is never a job and never a profession. Those are words that describe a hireling, a shepherd who works for pay. What we are called to in our vocation is much more radical than that.”

Luke’s Gospel Paradigm

      Another classic example of working for God rather than doing God’s work can be found in the story of Martha in Lk. 10: 38 – 42. She was busy preparing food for Jesus and his disciples while Mary her Sister sat down at the feet of Jesus listening to the word of God. When Martha asked Jesus to tell Mary to join her in preparing the food for the guests, she got a reprimand instead. There was no doubting the fact that Christ needed food and refreshment at that point in time. Basic human compassion and praise of the virtue of hospitality will make us give Martha a pass mark ordinarily. But that was not to be. She got a reprimand. What did Martha get wrong? The deciding factor was that she was busy “working for Christ” and not “doing Christ’s work” which is the spread of the good-news about the kingdom of God. When all a religious Sister does or interested in is her job as a Nurse or as  teacher, and not  interested in evangelization, catechetical work, pastoral visit, and robust prayer life,  she is merely working for God and her relevance questionable, since any other lay faithful can do exactly the same.   

     There are two points I will like to call our attention to in the passage, first, Martha was distracted with what she was doing. When she was busy working nobody bothered about her, but the moment she called attention to herself, her altruism gave way to self-recognition for the work she was doing. Instead of getting a pat on the back, she got a reprimand.  Second, she attempted to distract Mary her Sister, she even interrupted Jesus by demanding that he should ask Mary to join her in preparing food for the guests.  When an individual is busy doing the work of God, he/she will not seek to be recognized for the service being rendered. If people give helping hand they will be welcome, if not he keeps doing his best and leaves the reward to God who owns the work being done cf. Matthew 6: 1-4.

      The relevance of religious life lies in working quietly doing God’s work while maintaining their distinct identity as consecrated women. When Catholic nuns in most western nations abandoned their veils and habits and got involved in the quest for earthly recognition they simply got lost in the crowd. If religious women tinker with their identities as consecrated women and mix with the crowd their relevance will be lost. Thomas Green pointed out that Martha was lucky to have been rebuked directly by the Lord himself. In merely working for God rather than doing God’s work we may not have the benefit of been rebuked directly by the master. Even mystics like Saint Theresa of Avila got her rebuke through her confessors, inquisitors and other weak fallible human beings. The rebuke of religious women working for God as busy buddies rather than doing God’s work will certainly come from the local Bishop, regional superior or the community coordinators.

    There is a tendency to see the one correcting as the devil’s instrument trying to frustrate the work of God rather than the voice of the Lord speaking to us through them. We come to understand the source of such rebuke through discernment and prayer. Even when faced with bitter criticism, opposition and hostility from human instruments God sent to guide us, we must remember that: “Behind a frowning providence, this God hides a smiling face. God’s purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour, the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower” says William Cooper.

Simplicity of Life: Pauline Paradigm

     The world is getting complicated by the day. Simplicity of life is another key to the relevance of religious life in the contemporary time. Nuns do not have to worry about material things or to please anyone except God who has called them to the Church. In 1 Corinthians 7:34 – 35, religious women give their undivided attention to Lord and how to please him. Similarly, contentment in the consecrated life as St. Paul observed about himself in Philippians 4: 11-12 is an important requirement for the relevance of religious life in the contemporary world. Archbishop Fulton Sheen noted that: “It is ever true that the richer a soul is on the inside, the less need it has of luxuries on the outside. Excessive adornments and an inordinate love of comforts are proofs of our inner nakedness.” A consecrated woman should stand out in her holiness of life and be positive contrasts to earthly values. As Fulton Sheen admonished: “Unless the world sees a difference in the way we talk, dress, places we visit, they will not respect our witness of life.”


Success in personal prayer life and the apostolate we run do not necessarily translate to “doing God’s work.”Our apostolate and prayer life must be tested with the fruits of humility, charity, godliness, holiness of life and peace. When we meet with difficulty in our apostolate when doing God’s work, God may be trying to give us what we need for our perfection. We must avoid persecution complex and self righteousness.  God like a sculptor sometimes applies the chisel to the marble of our imperfect selves and knocks of huge chunks of selfishness that his image may better stand revealed in our human frailty. The relevance of religious life today and always lies in commitment to the evangelical counsels without any apology.

Being the text of paper presented to Franciscan Sisters on October 23rd 2014, at Our Lady and St. Kizito Pastoral Center, Ede.