It was not merely the inconveniences of religious life – the possibly uncomfortable clothes, celibacy, obedience to rules – which understandably rankled. It was in fact the whole special character of the religious identity. The religious habit was discarded not simply because it was out of date or unfunctional but because of its symbolism, its marking the wearer as an ambassador of God in the world, a responsibility the wearer no longer wished to discharge. […]

Numerous priests and religious announced, during the postconciliar crisis, that they no longer wished to play a special role, that the burdens of living up to what the Church expected of them were now intolerable. Humanly such feelings were quite understandable. Yet unnoticed was an implication of the most profound theological significance – no longer was the religious vocation treated as a call from God that might or might not coincide with the individual’s own wishes. The possibility that God might will certain people to assume tasks they would rather shirk was implicitly denied. The entire Judaeo-Christian understanding of the ways in which God deals with man was being silently rejected.

James Hitchcock, Catholicism and Modernity (1979)


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