The Church is currently celebrating the Year of Consecrated Life, a special year designated by Pope Francis to recognize the many contributions of the consecrated religious orders which serve the mission of the Church around the world. This Year is not only significant for the men and women who belong to these orders, but for all Catholics. Each of us benefits from the vocation of consecrated religious members and the work they do, whether receiving the benefits of their prayers, attending their schools, receiving care at their hospitals, and much more.
In particular, Pope Francis has noted that there are three “aims” of this Year.
Look to the Past with Gratitude
In our prayer life, the virtue of gratitude is a sign of spiritual maturity. Petition is also important, as it is very childlike. It is not as if we stop “asking” and relying upon our loving Heavenly Father for all things. However, just as a young child is taught to ask (petition) for things, so too is the child taught to say thank you. As time moves on and the child matures, no longer does he or she need to be reminded, but “thank you” becomes a natural response. So too must those called to the Consecrated Life. Our “thank you” must be incorporated, not only during the special year, but also throughout one’s own life. So too must all Catholics, when thinking of the great benefits received from others living their vocations. Note the benefits received from two very important communities in the Diocese of Gallup: the Franciscans and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
The founders of these communities, St. Francis and St. Katharine Drexel, each came from wealthy families, but both in their own way were detached from earthly treasures. Saint Francis declared, in the memorable scene in the center of Assisi, “I have called you my father on earth; from this point on I desire to say only ‘Our Father who art in Heaven’.” Saint Katharine Drexel used her inheritance to build and fund schools that ministered to those on the margins of society: African Americans and Native Americans.
Unlike the wealthy young man who was “owned” by his many possessions, these heroes of our faith were able to detach themselves of earthly treasures, in order that they might serve Christ, who is especially present in the poor.
Live the present with passion
Whether we are consecrated religious or not, we must ask ourselves often: “Am I open to being challenged by the Gospel?” For those who are members of religious orders, note what Pope Francis asks in his letter: “Are our ministries, our works and our presence consonant with what the Spirit asked of our founders and foundresses? Are they suitable for carrying out today, in society and the Church, those same ministries and works? Do we have the same passion for our people, are we close to them to the point of sharing in their joys and sorrows, thus truly understanding their needs and helping to respond to them?”
For all Catholics, these words ring true as well. We must ask ourselves everyday: “Is Jesus really our first and only love?” By putting Christ first, only then can we truly live our lives with passion, no matter the vocation.
Embrace the future with hope
Pope Francis says in his letter: “We all know the difficulties which the various forms of consecrated life are currently experiencing: decreasing vocations and aging members, particularly in the Western world; economic problems stemming from the global financial crisis; issues of internationalization and globalization; the threats posed by relativism and a sense of isolation and social irrelevance…” This can be felt by all Catholics. The idea that one’s faith or way of life is being challenged or becoming irrelevant is not solely felt by members of religious orders.
But remember, first and foremost, we are a people of hope, and our hope is in the Lord who made Heaven and Earth. The virtue of hope allows us to look to the future with great confidence. Confident that just as the Lord called men and women to leave all behind and follow him in a particular way of life, he will continue to inspire the future generation of the Church to do the same. To be men and women of great faith and hope, inspired by the Holy Spirit to do beautiful things all for Jesus Christ. It is a call to generosity, to give of one’s own life, and to prefer nothing about the love of Christ.
Finally, as Pope Francis has entrusted the Year of Consecrated Life to the Blessed Virgin Mary, “the Virgin of listening and contemplation, the first disciple of her beloved Son”, so too entrust your life to her (after the pattern of the beloved Pope John Paul II), who will lead you into a deeper and more intimate relationship with her Son.