The Year of Consecrated Life

The opening Mass for the Year of Consecrated Life is celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on November 30, the first Sunday of Advent.

The opening Mass for the Year of Consecrated Life was celebrated by Cardinal Wuerl at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on November 30, the First Sunday of Advent. CREDIT: Jaclyn Lippelmann

Pope Francis has proclaimed a Year of Consecrated Life, which began this past Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent. Some might wonder why the Holy Father is calling the Church to observe this year in conjunction with the Synod of Bishops on the Family.

Perhaps Pope Francis wants us to meditate more deeply on the intimate relationship between the family and consecrated life. We should remember that vocations to the consecrated life are born from the family, and those who are called in turn shed light on the vocation of every Christian. In a recent interview the Holy Father reminded religious, “Evangelical radicalness is not only for religious: it is demanded of all. But religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way.”

As the Second Vatican Council teaches us, “The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care vocation to a sacred state” (Lumen Gentium, 11). The consecrated life is a gift to the family, but also to the Church, and it is intended not only for the sanctification of the individual who receives it, but also for the good of the Church. In the marvel of God’s plan, each of us is called to walk with Jesus on the journey that will bring us to the experience of God in this life and to eternal joy with God in the life to come.

Consecrated men and women remind us that this joy flows from self-gift. In response to the question of the rich young man who wanted to attain eternal life, Jesus exhorts him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). The rich young man “went away sad, for he had many possessions” (Mt 19:22). Many throughout the history of the Church, however, have answered Jesus’ call to radical discipleship, living the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.

The religious vocation is primarily a call to generosity of spirit. These women and men consecrated to God give themselves, their hearts, their wills, their natural desire for spouse and children, their plans and even their weaknesses to the Lord.

In generous response to the call to consecrated life, we find a manifestation not only of the holiness of the Church, but also testimony to the kingdom of God already present in our world. Religious invite us to pause and consider that reality – his kingdom of peace and light, of mercy and forgiveness, of life and love – already in our midst. The same dynamic of generosity also animates family life, making the domestic church a witness to the kingdom of God.

Why are the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience so important? Because all three speak clearly against elements of this world that continually overwhelm us. 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. 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, free, and undivided heart.

Indeed, Saint John Paul II confirmed that love “is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (Familiaris Consortio, 11). While this common vocation of love can be manifested in different ways, among them married life and the priesthood, the vocation to consecrated life is a witness particularly needed today.

The consecrated life “is at the very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission,” Saint John Paul II wrote, “since it ‘manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling’ and the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse” (Vita Consecrata, 1).

May this Year of Consecrated Life strengthen us all in our primary vocation, drawing us ever more deeply into God’s kingdom of life and love.