The offering of Jesus to the Father in the Temple by Mary and Joseph, which we celebrate tomorrow with the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, “expresses very well the figure of the Church who continues to offer her sons and daughters to the heavenly Father,” and thus is a fitting time to observe the World Day for Consecrated Life, said Saint John Paul II in his message for the first such occasion in 1997.
The purpose of this day is to show esteem for consecrated life and praise God for this great gift, and also to promote religious vocations. This year we do this as the Church begins a special process of examination into how we “can lead young people to recognize and accept the call to the fullness of life and love” – whether realized in religious life, the priesthood or marriage – as stated in the recently-presented preparatory document for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. “Jesus looks at you and invites you to go with him,” says Pope Francis to young people in his letter accompanying this preparatory document. “Dear young people, have you noticed this look towards you? Have you heard this voice? Have you felt this urge to undertake this journey?”
In asking how better to encourage vocations, we should note studies showing that while nearly all young people consider marriage, most never even give any thought to the religious life or the priesthood. This suggests, on this day dedicated to consecrated life, that invitation and raising awareness are of primary importance.
Simply asking the young people in our families, neighborhoods, high schools and colleges to think about possibly being a religious sister or brother or priest might itself lead to an increase in these vocations. Certainly, those who have heard and answered the call did so in the context of others having engaged them. Sister Gilmary Kay, R.S.M., in our Office of Consecrated Life would be happy to talk with you about religious life, and you are also invited to attend discernment retreats and other events.
When we come to the typical characteristics of a person in religious life, you need only look around – they come from all backgrounds and look like the people in your neighborhoods, classrooms, and workplaces. As the report on sisters and brothers who professed perpetual vows in 2015 shows, they previously worked in diverse careers and most have either college or graduate degrees. Yet, although they might come from many different backgrounds, one thing I always find in common is the joy they exhibit. As you can see in this video of the profession of vows for a religious community where I was honored to preside last fall, each of the newly-professed sisters is a radiant bride of Christ. This joy, and their generosity of spirit which brings to the Church and our culture an encounter with Jesus, is a blessing for us all.