The Blessing of Consecrated Life
The infancy narratives in the Gospel of Saint Luke introduce us to two watchful people who are a model for us all, but particularly for those in consecrated life. Simeon “was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him,” and Anna, a widow who “never left the Temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer” (Luke 2:25, 37).
When Simeon and Anna saw Mary and Joseph bringing the infant Jesus into the Temple to present him to the Lord, they both praised God and gave witness that Jesus was the Messiah and a light of revelation to the world. In dedicating their lives so completely to the Lord, and then in proclaiming the Good News they had seen, Simeon and Anna are a sublime example for today’s men and women religious who have consecrated their lives to God.
As we celebrate the Presentation of the Lord today, the Church Universal observes the World Day for Consecrated Life as well, while also concluding an entire Year of Consecrated Life, which began the First Sunday of Advent, November 30, 2014. Giving thanks to God for our religious sisters and brothers this day, we also want to open our hearts to listen for our own personal calling.
The visit of Pope Francis to the Church of Washington last fall was filled with many wonderful moments, but one touched my heart in a special way. It was that time of grace when the Holy Father greeted more than 3,000 novices and postulants for religious life, and seminarians from around the country at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The vibrancy and youthfulness on display there is the future of the Church and it was a wonderful and inspiring sight.
Another moment which always warms my heart and inspires me is when I have the privilege of celebrating Mass for the profession of religious vows. As I look out at the young faces before me, and hear these women and men commit themselves in love to a life in Christ, solemnly promising to reflect in themselves the chastity, poverty and obedience of Jesus himself, I know that our Church is alive in the Spirit.
In our culture today, which all too often marginalizes the Church, there is nevertheless an enduring fascination with, and appreciation for, women and men in consecrated religious life. While it is true that in the wake of the social upheaval of 1960s and 70s there was a decline in religious vocations, today we are seeing headlines in secular newspapers like, “The Comeback of the American Nun,” and “Bucking a Trend, Some Millennials Are Seeking a Nun’s Life.”
Today we are seeing a time of renewal in the consecrated life. There is a sense of vibrancy. And one reason that more and more women and men are drawn to giving themselves, their hearts, their wills, their plans and even their weaknesses to the Lord is because, as one secular feature story relates, “the modern world, despite all its flashy materialism and sexual rewards, ultimately leaves them wanting more.”
The “more” they are looking for, the happiness they are seeking, they are finding in Jesus Christ. One of the blessings of my ministry is to work with these religious sisters and brothers who go on to serve others in diverse ministries. To encounter them is to encounter a person full of enthusiasm, fulfillment and joy.
The religious vocation is primarily a call to generosity of spirit and in response to that call, 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. Here in the Archdiocese of Washington, there are 68 communities of women religious and 43 men’s communities providing ministerial witness to the Gospel in a variety of ways, including contemplative prayer, education, healthcare, social work, administration, and communications.
Each of these religious communities is worthy of individual praise, but there is one in particular I would like to mention – the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are providing invaluable service to the Church and our nation by effectively leading the way in defense of religious liberty against the HHS Mandate, which would compel them, the archdiocese and other religious employers to violate our Catholic faith. Later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide the case.
Today, at the close of the Year of Consecrated Life, 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 Spirit to give themselves in fervent love to the Lord. What a blessing they are. In them, the love and mercy of Christ is made more present and felt in this world.