Monday, February 2, 2015

Celebrating Consecrated Life

My family was blessed to have become friends with two amazing Benedictine sisters from Tanzania.  They spent several years studying in the U.S., and when they would join us for family gatherings, it was as if you could feel the joy entering the room!

Of course, if you have had the chance to meet any of the Nashville Dominican sisters (or sisters from any of the other growing religious communities, for that matter), you have probably had a similar experience.  A typical response would go something like this:  "Whatever--or Whomever--they have, I want!"

Unfortunately, most people do not have regular contact with such vibrant and Spirit-filled religious women or men.  This is problematic on a personal level because it is difficult for young people to respond to a call to religious life without a lived experience of how beautiful it can be.  It is even more problematic on a communal level, however, since the renewal of the Church--and thereby of the world--is intimately linked to the renewal of consecrated life.

Widely acknowledged as the "great reformer," Pope Francis clearly sees this connection.  His call for a "Year of Consecrated Life" intends to refocus Jesus' followers on this great gift to the Church and to the world.  Indeed, by designating February 2nd as The World Day for Consecrated Life, the universal Church not only celebrates those who have previously committed themselves to vows of consecration, but also lifts up an alternative way of life for our consideration. 

In an age seemingly obsessed with worldly riches, sex, and freedom repackaged as mere license, God uses the call of the consecrated life as a witness to evangelical poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Those who follow this call are able to say "No" to certain goods of life because of their "Yes" to a greater Good.  Thanks to this heroic commitment, they are able devote themselves wholeheartedly to the apostolic work of the Church in the world.  Supported by an intentional experience of community  and formed in a life of prayer, vowed religious and consecrated laypersons bring a depth of passion and presence to everything they do for the Lord.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states the vision in compelling fashion (nn. 915-16): "Christ proposes the evangelical counsels, in their great variety, to every disciple.  The perfection of charity, to which all the faithful are called, entails for those who freely follow the call to consecrated life the obligation of practicing chastity in celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, poverty and obedience.... The state of consecrated life is thus one way of experiencing a 'more intimate' consecration, rooted in Baptism and dedicated totally to God.  In the consecrated life, Christ's faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit, propose to follow Christ more nearly, to give themselves to God who is loved above all and, pursuing the perfection of charity in the service of the kingdom, to signify and proclaim in the Church the glory of the world to come."

The universal call to holiness is rooted in our baptismal call to follow Christ.  When the Lord praises those who "have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19:12), however, he not only shocks his followers but offers a new path for the total gift of self to which we are all called.  Whereas marriage and family serve as incarnational signs of God's ongoing creative work in the world, the consecrated life provides an eschatological reminder that this world is not an end in itself.

Let's pray in thanksgiving and mutual support for all those who are considering a call to the consecrated life:  After all, the kingdom of God is already at hand, even as it awaits its final consummation at the return of Christ. 

"Whoever can accept this ought to accept it" (Mt 19:12)!