Tuesday, December 06, 2005

New Orders

Religious orders come and go, and for the past 40 years mainly the latter. If an order outlives its usefulness or forgets its mission, then it is best to let it go. But there are new orders and associations being founded these days, with new missions.

The purpose of a religious order is to increase the holiness of its members by serving God and man. Prayer—mainly the Divine Office and the Mass—is a primary means of doing the former and either intercessory prayer or secular service do the latter. The big religious orders that did the bulk of that secular service, mainly education and healthcare, are in serious trouble these days; the educators seem to be ignorant of Christianity, while the hospital orders are looking very sick. But many of the new fast-growing orders and associations seem to be contemplative, and are often based on the traditional Latin liturgy; this is a good start; a sick mind cannot be educated in right reason, and healing the soul is the first step in healing the body. This makes much sense: people no longer pray for themselves, so instead these new brothers and sisters have to pray for them.

Natural disasters seem to be multiplying, and often it seems that governments and agencies are at least somewhat incompetent in reacting to these. This could be a field of service for a new kind religious order, one that has disciplined members who can evacuate people from harm's way, and perform search-and-rescue missions and first aid in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. The months following a disaster is the time for the work of Catholic Charities and similar organizations: helping people find housing, finding homes for orphans, and such forth, in a mainly bureaucratic fashion. But in the proximity of disaster, special training and equipment are needed, and critically, a special kind of person. This would be similar to the type of service offered by the Red Cross, but at a much lower cost. The American Red Cross has an overhead of 75% or more; a Catholic religious order would instead have dedicated brothers doing the work with little overhead cost.

An order like this would have some similarities to the old military orders of the middle ages, for this kind of disaster service would be similar to military life: as is often said, there will be long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of extreme terror. The members would have to have constant training, be willing to act under a moment's notice, and they will have to be obedient to superiors. Physical fitness and ability to withstand physical hardship would be unique requirements of this kind of order.

This kind of religious order would perhaps appeal to a different kind of person than would be attracted to a contemplative order, and also there would be a great need for secular members. A small core of members under permanent vows could make up the administration of the order and would oversee the daily operation, while a large number of secular members would do the bulk of the effort in times of disaster. A secular member could be bound to one weekend a month and two weeks a year—just like the National Guard—at the order's charterhouse for training and building community, and then go as needed to serve in an emergency.

Since a Christian has the duty to serve others out of charity, costs could be kept low. Needed supplies could be obtained by 'pledges in advance' from companies who are willing to donate transportation and material at an unspecified time in the future: as needed, when needed, also out of charity.


  1. Hi there

    1) I think 10,000 people are waiting for someone to found the order and set up the system so that they can go do it.

    2) Btw where did you get that percentage you quoted on Red Cross overhead? Any documentation on it?

    Take care & God bless

  2. Here is the 2004 tax return for the American Red Cross:

    I noticed that they spend about $1.2 billion on wages, $2 million on executive salaries, plus a lot of other expenses that ought to be donated by others.

    The Red Cross itself claims a relatively low overhead charge, but this is only true if you look at the organization like you would a for-profit corporation, and not as a pure charity.

  3. I had second thoughts when I was writing this article (and I must admit that I was hurried in writing it); normally I don't like throwing out ideas unless I can do something about it or at least inspire others, and I'm not sure that this article fits in either category. Back at an old job, I used to attend weekly staff meetings. I learned very quickly not to make suggestions unless I was willing to implement them myself or was able to find individuals who were willing to work on them. I still recall the first time my manager said "That is a good idea. Go ahead and do it."

    But starting a new order is easy.

    1) Start it.
    2) Get approval from the local Bishop.

    Finding a number of founding members is difficult, for they need to be of like mind. Drawing up a rule and defining the organization comes later, but fortunately we have plenty of good examples to choose from in the history of the Church. Episcopal approval may be difficult, for that is political. Fundraising is another issue, and I think that organizations that rely too much on this are heading for trouble; hardworking and prayerful people are needed more than money.