The Year of Consecrated Life, announced by Pope Francis, begins this coming Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, and will end on February 2, 2016, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Pope Francis proclaimed this special year which also marks the 50th anniversary of the decree on religious life entitled Perfectae Caritatis of the Second Vatican Council.
This special year is an opportunity for us to grow in our appreciation of the gift of the consecrated life to the Church. It is also an opportunity to highlight this vocation and to invite young people to consider the possible call to follow Christ in the consecrated life.
What is the consecrated life? It is way of life that includes the profession of the three evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Catechism teaches that the state of consecrated life is thus one way of experiencing a ‘more intimate’ consecration, rooted in Baptism and dedicated totally to God. In the consecrated life, Christ’s faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit, propose to follow Christ more nearly, to give themselves to God who is loved above all and, pursuing the perfection of charity in the service of the Kingdom, to signify and proclaim in the Church the glory of the world to come (CCC 916).
There are various forms of consecrated life in the Church. We are probably most familiar with what is called “the religious life.” This is the life of religious sisters, brothers, and priests who live a common life in a religious community. We are blessed in our diocese with many religious sisters, brothers, and priests. We have motherhouses of the following religious communities in our diocese: the Congregation of Holy Cross (sisters, brothers, and priests), the Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, and the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Victory. There is also a novitiate of the Conventual Franciscan Friars in our diocese.
We are also blessed in our diocese with three communities that are “on the road” to becoming religious institutes: the Franciscan Brothers Minor, the Franciscan Sisters Minor, and the Poor Sisters of Saint Clare (a cloistered, contemplative community).
Besides “the religious life,” there are also other forms of consecrated life in the Church. These include secular institutes (whose members live in the world); consecrated virgins; and consecrated hermits. All these forms of consecrated life are lived within a permanent state of life recognized by the Church.
I think we need a renewed appreciation of the consecrated life as a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. Some are quite pessimistic about the future of consecrated life in the context of today’s society and culture. But I am not so pessimistic. Realistically, we have seen a steep decline in the number of consecrated men and women. Yet, I believe that the tide can be turned. I believe that God is still calling men and women to radically follow the Gospel as religious brothers, sisters and priests; as consecrated virgins; as hermits; and as members of secular institutes. Pope Saint John Paul II called the consecrated life “an integral part of the Church’s life.” He said (and I agree) that “the Church and society itself need people capable of devoting themselves totally to God and to others for the love of God.”
Ultimately, embracing the consecrated life is a response to God’s love. Those who embrace this life desire to love and serve the Lord with great generosity, devoting their whole lives to the service of Christ and His Church. I hope and pray that the Year of Consecrated Life, in highlighting this beautiful vocation, will be an occasion for fresh efforts in the promotion of vocations to the consecrated life.
In a homily last year at a Mass with seminarians and novices, Pope Francis said the following: People today certainly need words, but most of all they need us to bear witness to the mercy and tenderness of the Lord which warms the heart, rekindles hope, and attracts people towards the good. What a joy it is to bring God’s consolation to others! I think this is a good description of the mission of consecrated women and men in the Church: to bring to others the consolation of God and to bear witness to His mercy. Of course, this mission will only be fruitful if the consecrated men and women themselves have experienced the Lord’s mercy and consolation. This is why prayer is a central part of the life of consecrated men and women. Liturgical and personal prayer is integral to every form of consecrated life.
I hope that this Year of Consecrated Life will bear much good fruit for the Church in our diocese and beyond. I hope it will be a time of special blessing for all our brothers and sisters who are living in this state of life. Let us pray for them, their fidelity, and their growth in holiness. Let us also pray for an increase in vocations to the consecrated life in our diocese and throughout the world.