One topic that keeps resurfacing in LC/RC discussion is the pressure families feel to recruit, join Regnum Christi (RC), and ship their children off to Legion of Christ (LC) schools. Vocations are fragile – that’s the justification often expressed – and must be sheltered and protected from the world, where too many temptations abound. The implication being as follows: Not to ship off one’s child to these spiritual bomb-shelters is to endanger one’s child and his vocation.
This begs a few questions. For example, where are LC priests and RC lay consecrated suppose to minister once they emerge from their spiritual cocoons? As St. John Chrysostom teaches, monastic life and parish priesthood are both pleasing to the Lord, but they require different training.
The RC/LC are often compared to Opus Dei, which came into being around the same time. Both projects were founded by young Spanish-speaking priests during a tumultuous time in their national history, when the Church was under persecution. Both drew Catholics looking for a more fervent expression of the faith.
Having said that, here are some notable differences. St. Josemaria Escriva always saw Opus Dei as an apostolate of Christ embracing the world. Subsequently, Opus Dei members interact with the world quite a bit through social activities, education and the pursuit of professional practice and credentials. Rather than ship teenage boys off to apostolic schools, these young men are encouraged to pursue spiritual and academic excellence, to develop a trade or profession toward which they are suited, and to be active in the world.
There’s no pressure to join Opus Dei as a numerary or supernumerary. The vast majority of people I have encountered at Opus Dei events are cooperators – that is, non-members who support Opus Dei’s work but who do not feel called to membership. They participate in some spiritual and social activities, insofar as they feel called and find time to do so.
And Opus Dei is happy with that. They understand that a vocation to numerary or supernumerary is a calling from God that needs to be discerned carefully through prayer and contemplation. So Opus Dei’s usual reaction when someone wishes to become a cooperator, numerary or supernumerary, is to tell the individual to slow down and take time for discernment before Our Lord.
Yet what about priestly vocations? Some priests discern a vocation to Opus Dei having already been ordained, but the majority are called from the ranks of numeraries – that is, the celibate male members. Most of these individuals are well-established in professional careers as doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, business professionals, university professors, etc. In other words, they’re out there in the world, interacting with other people, living in the world, conversant of the world, but not of the world, yet attempting to embrace the world as Christ embraced the world from the cross. Far from being sheltered throughout most of their lives, Opus Dei seminarians enter their seminary formation with proven track-records as spiritual and professional leaders.
This may seem risky to those more familiar with the LC/RC model. To become a priest with Opus Dei, a young man must first finish his schooling, which often involves attending secular schools and universities, then he must practice his profession for some time – all while discerning a lay vocation with the Work. Then he must continue to practice his profession as a member of the movement, while simultaneously taking on leadership positions within the movement. Once he is established in his prayer life, his professional career and his Opus Dei apostolate – and only then! – does he begin to discern the call to holy orders. Which requires more prayer and discernment before Opus Dei ships him off for seminary formation.
So many steps before he even starts his seminary formation! So many potential roadblocks, distraction and temptations. How could a young man possibly make it to priesthood without losing his vocation?
Well… let’s see what the numbers say. The LC/RC boast 800 priests, 2,500 seminarians and 75,000 lay members of Regnum Christi. In comparison, Opus Dei’s numbers are as follows: 1,900 priests and 85,000 lay members.
If priestly vocations are so fragile that they must be sheltered from the world – sheltered even from good Catholic parents and the family structure, as reportedly happens with the Legion’s apostolic schools – how does one account for the fact that Opus Dei has over twice the number of priests as the Legion? Both movements were founded around the same time under similar external circumstances, both appeal to a similar audience, but Opus Dei sends its young men out into the world to live as laymen before calling them back to priesthood, whereas the Legion – like the fearful servant in the Gospel – buries its talents in a field, away from human eyes.
And I’m not even commenting upon the quality or durability of vocation. Opus Dei has one of the lowest defection rates in the Church. Once ordained a priest with Opus Dei, you will probably remain a priest with Opus Dei until you die. On the other hand, nobody quite knows the defection rate for LC clergy – and of the dozen or so English-speaking bloggers who regularly comment on the LC/RC scandal, FOUR are former LC/RC clergy. And this doesn’t include numerous readers commenting on the blogs – some now professed atheists – who introduce themselves as former Legion clergy or seminarians.
So remember St. John Chrysostom’s advice to parents (and as a saint, doctor and father of the Church, his means have been tested throughout the centuries and found credible): you are raising children, not monks. If God has a vocation for your children, whether it be priest or monk, He will call them when the time is right.