By Brother Jack Tierney, O.S.A.
As one of the youngest members of the Midwest Province of the Augustinians, I have been deeply affected by seeing the names of our friars, living and deceased, published on the front pages of newspapers and websites. The reports and allegations against the U.S. clergy coming to light over the past year have given me many opportunities for discouragement about the Bishops’ leadership, anger at offenders, and sadness for victims.
Nevertheless, it was during these discouragements that I made my permanent, solemn vows to the Order of St. Augustine in December 2018. Some people have expressed their own dismay, asking such things as, "Why commit for life? How could you sacrifice a bright future to a corrupt and erring organization?" The discouragement is real—yet so is the outpouring of support from family and friends. I have experienced God’s presence and peace in my decision to commit my life to the Order. This article offers my own perspective as a man in religious formation preparing for priesthood. These are three reasons why I decided to profess solemn vows.
REASON 1 – I FOLLOW JESUS CHRIST
I would be discouraged from religious life if I let the tides of public opinion persuade my life choices or if I were joining the Augustinians in search of a quiet path of leisure. I would be discouraged if the anger and frustration were to pierce my mind and heart. However, I did not dedicate my life to the pursuit of popularity or comfort. Neither do I ignore the need among the religious for perpetual conversion and repentance. I am consecrated to Jesus. My solemn profession was my response to the personal invitation, "Come and follow me" (Mt 4:19).
A vocation is a sacred call to follow Jesus Christ; he is the source and center of my faith. The call of Christ has led me to the Augustinians. Indeed, I discovered an imperfect community-one that is messy and often misunderstood by many. By wearing my religious habit, the public’s anger and doubt are now directed onto me. They are often surprised by my youth. It opens the space for dialogue about my own vocation and our call as an ecclesial community.
The Augustinian Order—this imperfect community of imperfect men—is where God has provided me with profound joy and spiritual friendship. As I proclaim and live the Gospel, I participate in the very mystery of the Christian message—that Christ suffered and died in order to establish the Kingdom.
REASON 2 – GOD PROVIDES FOR THE FUTURE
From the outside, some might also see the age demographics of our Order as a source of discouragement. For example, at our most recent Province Chapter, I was one of the youngest people in attendance. Around me, I witnessed the wisdom and experience of elder friars as they deliberated the future of the Midwest Augustinians. There was a lot of gray hair (It’s true, brothers!).
The scandal has far-reaching implications that will only emerge with time. However, it is clear sexual abuse will not be solved in three months. It will take years and perhaps even decades to fully mitigate its effects and eliminate its causes. I have committed to an unknown future with the Augustinians and the Roman Catholic Church; at times the work ahead of us seems overwhelming.
Isn’t there incentive to find a younger, richer, or more secure community?
It’s true - the Province must provide health care to our retired friars, supply qualified pastors and teachers for our ministries, and continue to invite men to join the Augustinian way of life. These are major challenges for the very near future. Just as preventing sexual abuse is an urgent task.
If we relied on our human effort alone, we are bound to fail. Thank God our guidance is from God! "Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect" (Rom 12:2).
As the Augustinians discern God’s will, we follow the Holy Spirit. We trust that God is present to the Church and we give thanks for "good and pleasing" trends. We celebrate a sustainable increase in vocations to the Augustinian way of life. We give thanks for benefactors supporting the financial needs of the Order. We receive consolation that the sexual abuse crisis does not define us as Augustinians, friars, or priests.
The Augustinians are dedicated to a life of prayer and service to God’s people. We believe that God is present to us, even as we explore an uncertain future with hard truths. Through transformation and renewal in Christ, God is actively present to all the faithful—especially those in sin who seek forgiveness.
Often, our human weaknesses and sin is visible. And manifest in destructive ways. Yes, many members of the clergy and religious orders will have their sins brought to light. However, the uncomfortable process of reform and improvement never detracts from the Divine presence. So long as we keep the call of Jesus at the center of our mission and identity, I am consoled with the Father’s guiding presence.
REASON 3 – WISDOM OF A MEDIEVAL STRUCTURE
The media raises important questions about clergy behavior and the implementation of safe environment policies. There are victims who experience tremendous hurt as a result of clerical sexual abuse. We have an opportunity for better oversight, greater accountability, and stronger measures of responsibility to protect vulnerable people.
When survivors of clergy abuse are ready to share their story, they may feel disoriented by the organizational structure of religious orders. Developed over hundreds of years, religious communities appear complex, slow, secretive, and protective. This may be especially true for the Augustinians - we are a worldwide Order with our central governance in the Roman Curia. Did I join a brotherhood that conceals misdeeds or deliberately convolutes the course of justice for its own protection? Have I put a target on my back?
The Augustinians are a brotherhood who have experienced a calling to common life in response to the invitation of Jesus. We are not united by secrecy or a culture of silence. Rather, we are bound together in Baptismal consecration. Our vows consecrate our words and actions to Christ, the very center of our identity.
Joining the Augustinians has been fulfilling and life-giving for me. I bene t from the example of Augustine and Saints who loved the common life. As I learned about myself, I discovered the need for brothers to keep me on track. I realized that I need the Order for support, just like a family. Yes, it’s a large, confusing bureaucracy. It can even be slow and frustrating at times. But it is my home; the place my restless heart can encounter God through others.
The Order grants access to institutional resources and provides an unmatched platform for announcing the Good News. The Church has an enormous capability for good, unrivaled by almost any other organization in the world. These structures need updating, accountability, and renewal. But they were designed to be stable and deliberative; their perseverance through the centuries attests to the wisdom of the mendicant tradition. The bureaucracy is intentionally slow: in order to be intentionally compassionate. e process provides opportunities for truth, forgiveness, and the primacy of love.
I am confident that the Holy Spirit will lead reform and fulfill the requirements of justice. No amount of bureaucratic delay will stifle the fire of love. Because I have experienced God in the fraternal love of Augustinians, it is precisely through the fraternity that God is calling us to renewal. I hope that my own passion and energy will both honor the past and help define the next generation of Augustinians.