A honest discussion on Religious Life

With Timothy Radcliffe OP

arun simon
7 min readJul 13, 2021

I happened to read an incredible chapter titled Promise of Life in the book (Sing a New Song) of Timothy Radcliff OP, a world renowned Dominican and one of the former Master of the Congregation (the big boss). He has also summarised many of the points in an article freely available on internet. Reading the book chapter moved me tremendously; it is amazingly honest reading on the religious life. (Though the article has a Dominican style, it is a worthwhile read for those in religious life and those interested to know about religious life. It also helps to understand the religious and priests a little closer, as human beings, and not as someone separate, holy etc). I would quote a few lines from the text, which I highly recommend to anyone. The three main components of the article are the apostolic life, the community life and the life of prayer.

  • Every wise person has always known that there is no way to life that does not take one through the wilderness. The journey from Egypt to the Promised Land passes through the desert. If we would be happy and truly alive, then we too must pass that way. We need communities which will accompany us on that journey. (Article, Page No. 1)

Apostolic Life

  • Yves Congar OP wrote of preaching that it is a “vocation that is the substance of my life and being”. (Article,Page No. 2)
  • To be an apostle is not just to tell people about God. It is to bear within our lives that distance between the life of God and that which is furthest away, alienated and hurt. We have a word of hope only if we glimpse from within the pain and despair of those to whom we preach. We have no word of compassion unless somehow we know their failures and temptations as our own. We have no word which offers meaning to people’s lives, unless we have been touched by their doubts, and glimpsed the abyss. I think of some of my French brethren, who after a day of teaching theology and doing research, take to the pavements at night, to meet the prostitutes, to hear their woes and sufferings, and to offer them a word of hope. (Article, Page No. 2)
  • If we let ourselves be touched by the doubts and beliefs of our contemporaries, then we may find ourselves in a desert in which the gospel makes no sense anymore. “He has walled up my path “(Job 19.8) … To make us evangelisers, God may lead us into that wilderness. There our old certainties will collapse, and the God whom we have known and loved will disappear. Then we may have to share the dark night of Gethsemane, when all seems absurd and senseless, and the Father appears to be absent. (Article, Page No. 3)
  • Faced with void, we may be tempted to fill it, with half believed platitudes, with substitutes for the living God. The fundamentalism which we so often see in the Church today is perhaps the frightened reaction of those who stood on the edge of that desert, but did not dare to endure it. The desert is a place of terrifying silence, which we may try to drown by banging out old formulas with a terrible sincerity. But the Lord leads us into the wilderness to show us his glory. Therefore, says Meister Eckhart, “Stand firm, and do not waver from your emptiness” (Page No. 3 and my favourite)
  • In our communities we should be able to share both our faith and our doubts. For most of us, it is not enough just to recite the psalms together. (Page No. 4)

Affective Life

  • Perhaps in some countries the churches are empty because the preaching of the gospel is seen as an exercise of control rather than the expression of God’s boundless love. So to become alive, abundantly alive as evangelisers, means discovering how to love well. “My vocation is Love”. (Page No. 4)
  • Unless our apostolic impulse and our capacity for love are deeply integrated, then they become a matter of either controlling others or myself. (Page No. 5)
  • Celibacy does not witness to anything. But celibates do. We witness to the kingdom if we are seen to be people who chastity liberates us for life. Our communities should be schools of friendship. (book, page 134).
  • The culmination of our loving will be a dispossession. Those whom we love we must let go; we must let them be. We should find that we disappear from the centre of their lives, so that they may forget us and be free, free for someone else, free for God. (Page No. 5)
  • We are neither angels nor beasts, but flesh and blood and spirit, destined for the kingdom. But, as Pascal said, if we make the mistake of thinking that we are angels, then we will become beasts. (book, page 137)
  • Sex is indeed a beautiful sacrament of communion with another, the gift of oneself, and so it can never be trivialised. Yet there are other ways in which we may love fully and completely, and so its absence does not condemn us to isolation and loneliness. (book, page 139)
  • I cannot have a mature relationship to my sexuality until I learn to accept and even delight in human bodies, my own and other people’s….Central to our tradition (Dominican) from the beginning is an appreciation of corporeality…. The Eucharist shows us the vocation of our human bodies; to become gifts to each other, the possibility of communion. (book, page 140–141)
  • True purity of heart is not about being freed from contamination by this world. It is more about being fully present in what do and are, having a face and a body that expresses ourselves, beyond deceit and duplicity. (book, page 142)
  • Above all we should offer each other hope and mercy. Often we are drawn to the religious life because we admire a religious brother or a sister. We hope that we will become like them. Soon we will discover that they are in fact just like us, fragile, sinful and selfish. This can be a moment of profound disillusionment. I remember a novice complaining of this sad discovery. The novice master replied to him, “I am delighted to hear that you no longer admire us. Now there is a chance that you might come to love us.” (Page No. 6)
  • Crisis (in vocation) is a moment of opportunity. It can be fruitful. book, page 148)
  • He speaks about falling in love too, but I don’t want to take just one quote, which may not do justice to him.
  • The experience of loneliness reveals a fundamental truth about ourselves, which is that alone we are incomplete. Contrary to the dominant perception of much of western society, we are not self-sufficient, self-contained beings. Loneliness reveals that I cannot be alive, I cannot be, by myself. I only exist through my relationships with others. Alone I die. This loneliness reveals a void, an emptiness at the heart of my life. We may be tempted to fill it with many things, food, drink, sex, power or work. But the emptiness remains. The alcohol or whatever is merely a disguised thirst for God. I suspect that we cannot even fill it with the presence of other people. (Page No. 6)


  • In prayer we make an exodus, beyond the tiny shell of our self-obsession. We enter the larger world of God. Prayer is a “discipline that stops me taking myself for granted as the fixed centre of a little universe, and allows me to find and lose and re-find myself constantly in the interweaving patterns of a world I did not make and do not control”.(Page No. 7)
  • This is the silence that prepares the way for a word of preaching. Ignatius of Antioch said that the Word came out from the silence of the Father. It was a strong, clear, decisive and truthful Word, because it was born in silence. He “was not Yes and No; but in him it was always yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Cor 1 l9f). Often our words lack authority, because they are yes and no; they hint and nudge; they are coloured by innuendoes and ambiguities, they carry little arrows and small resentments. We must create that silence in which true words can be conceived and shared. (Page No. 8)
  • We hunger for a silence which prepares for communication rather than refuses it. It is the comfortable silence which comes before and after we share a word, rather than the awkward silence of those who have nothing to say to each other (Page No. 8)
  • In the years before he was assassinated, Pierre Claverie OP, Bishop of Oran in Algeria, took the road to Jerusalem, as he refused to give in to threats and leave his people. In 1994 he said in a sermon, “I have struggled for dialogue and friendship between people, cultures and religions. All that probably earns me death, but I am ready to accept that risk”.(Page No. 8)
  • We live out the meaning of that Eucharist in setting each other free, infecting each other with Christ’s immeasurable freedom. (Page No. 9)

To read more, read the book if you have the chance. Or check out the article freely available. Thanks to Timothy Radcliffe OP for his insights.



arun simon

A Jesuit with all the crazyness… Loves Jesus…Loves church, but loves to challenge too… Loves post modern philosophy & Gilles Deleuze.. Loves deep conversations…