Loving God and Others in Religious and Consecrated Life
Jesus taught that every one is obliged to love God and his neighbor in the faithful observance of the commandments. Indeed, the entirety of the Law can be summed up in this one word – “love” (Matthew 22:36-40; Luke 10:25-28). Similarly, Blessed Pope John Paul II confirmed that love “is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (Familiaris Consortio, 11). This common vocation of love can be manifested in different ways, among them married life and the priesthood, which we will discuss later. Today, as we celebrate World Day for Consecrated Life, I would like to consider those who are called to make such a radical gift of self to the Lord.
Those in whom God’s grace stirs a hunger for a more demanding life are called to share with Christ a willingness to give up much that the world offers so that they might cling to God in a richer freedom. This invitation to close discipleship endures in the Church in a special way in the religious life. Those who enter this state bind themselves, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, “either by vows or by other sacred bonds which are like vows, in their purpose” (Lumen Gentium, 44) to an observance of the evangelical counsels of perfection – that is, the Gospel counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.
As these evangelical counsels indicate, accepting a calling to totally dedicate oneself to God, to love him beyond all things, involves cutting away many perfectly laudable objectives that one might otherwise pursue: sexual and domestic fulfillment in marriage, ownership of property, and the development of other abilities. Yet giving up these things can be counted as nothing by those who long to cling to the Lord immediately and intimately with a full, freer and undivided heart – to share that emptying of self with Christ that is described by Saint Paul (Philippians 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 7:34; see also Vita Consecreta, 21).
The state of life “which is constituted by the profession of the evangelical counsels, while not entering into the hierarchal structure of the Church, belongs undeniably to her life and holiness” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 914, quoting Lumen Gentium, 44). This particular manifestation of the vocation to love is lived out in a range of callings, including the eremitic life, the commitment as a consecrated virgin, religious life that is distinguished by its liturgical character, public profession of the evangelical counsels, community life and witness given to union of Christ the Bridegroom with the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church 925).
All of these forms of response to a call from God share a common desire: to build up the Church through the exercise of a unique gift from God, and at the same time to bear public witness to the coming of the kingdom that will bring about the full glory and completion of the Church.
One of the blessings of my ministry is to see the important work being done by the consecrated women and men who serve others in diverse ministries. They speak with such joy of the life they have found in Christ. I urge you to mark this Day for Consecrated Life by talking to the young people you know, perhaps even a son or daughter, and asking them if they have considered a vocation to the consecrated life. Talk with them about the importance of the witness of this life to the Church and to the world.
Today, as we give thanks for the many men and women from our archdiocese and throughout the Church universal who have responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to be a consecrated person, let us also pray that they may experience the support of our spiritual family as they continue their growth in holiness.