The Great Gift of Consecrated Life
Forty days after Mary gave birth to our Lord Jesus, she and Joseph brought him to the Temple in Jerusalem to be dedicated to God. Today’s feast of the Presentation of the Lord commemorates this event and shows us the beauty of a life given totally to God. Thus, it is only natural that Saint John Paul II should choose this day for the Church Universal to celebrate an annual World Day for Consecrated Life.
This day dedicated to our sisters and brothers in religious life comes as we are also observing an entire Year of Consecrated Life. Both remind us that even today young men and women receive a personal call from the Lord to give themselves completely to him.
In today’s culture, religious life is often never given any thought since many young people have no familiarity with such a way of life. When it is considered, such a momentous life decision might raise concerns among family and friends who struggle to understand this vocation. We can sometimes fall into thinking of consecrated life only as a sacrifice, as giving things up – material well-being, love, freedom. Perhaps parents think their children will only find real happiness and fulfillment in marriage, or they fear their children are somehow being taken away from them.
However, a vocation to the consecrated life brings with it immeasurable gifts, most importantly a deeper encounter with Christ. The person called to this way of life professes vows which express a fervent love for the Lord. To unite themselves more closely to Jesus – who was poor, chaste, and obedient to his heavenly Father – consecrated men and women commit to live in the way that he did, in poverty, chastity, and obedience. Although these can be difficult renunciations by the standards of today’s culture, such detachment of the worldly way of life results in a far greater gain – Christ himself! Those in whom God’s grace stirs a hunger for this more radical life share with Christ a willingness to give up much that the world offers so that they might love and serve God in a richer freedom.
It is important to remember that the path to a consecrated vocation is a long one. Even after a person takes the first step into religious life as a postulant, he or she still has many years of discernment. Religious life is carefully structured so that there is a minimum period of four years before the person professes permanent vows. This period might be likened to an engagement to be married, but typically not even marriage has such an extensive discernment period before the final commitment! For the religious, this is a period of trying out the life, discerning whether it is truly God’s plan for their happiness. As Saint John Paul II reminds us, though all people are called to communion with God, the call to religious life “presupposes a particular gift of God not given to everyone, as Jesus himself emphasizes with respect to voluntary celibacy (cf. Matthew 19:10-12).This call is accompanied, moreover, by a specific gift of the Holy Spirit, so that consecrated persons can respond to their vocation and mission” (Vita Consecrata, 30).
Today we are seeing a time of renewal in the consecrated life. There is a sense of vibrancy. To encounter a religious sister or religious brother today is to encounter a person full of enthusiasm and joy.
Throughout this Year of Consecrated Life, there will be special opportunities for young people to see this for themselves and learn more about the day-to-day experience of consecrated life. On February 8, many religious communities nationwide will be hosting an open house for people to come meet their sisters and brothers and see their religious life.
Family can be an invaluable support for the young person undertaking this way of life. Their prayers and their availability to open dialogue can help parent and child together pass through the many steps towards this beautiful way of life, the call to which begins as early as Baptism. “In the Church’s tradition, religious profession is considered to be a special and fruitful deepening of the consecration received in Baptism, inasmuch as it is the means by which the close union with Christ already begun in Baptism develops in the gift of a fuller, more explicit and authentic configuration to him” (Vita Consecrata, 30).
Let us thank God for the great gift of consecrated life, which has always been “at the very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission. . . . It is a precious and necessary gift for the present and future of the People of God” (Vita Consecrata, 3). These countless men and women remind the whole Church that God is our true happiness and our true home.