WHAT DOES THE POPE SAY? THE YEAR OF CONSECRATED LIFE
“Yes, priests are the presence of Jesus in the midst of us, but Sisters, what are they useful for?” I remember a few years ago hearing this conversation on the bus. I don’t know if what hit me the most was the unexpected religious topic or the substance of the conversation! In short, the sisters, what are they “useful” for? Typical question of our western culture, where the worth of things are based in their usefulness.
Pope Francis was not on that bus, yet he “answered” this question by giving the Church the Year of Consecrated Life that now heads towards its conclusion. More than 12 months to better know and rediscover a reality that is part of the Church, from monasticism until now, expressed in the traditional forms and in new communities that are blooming, one of which is us, Apostles of the Interior Life.
“I wanted first and foremost to re-introduce all the Church to the beauty and the preciousness of this specific of sequela Christi (following Christ),” wrote the Pope in the Message for the opening of the year. The consecrated life is a sign. What is it “useful” for? Nothing and everything. Nothing because the consecrated life often does not produce something visible and quantifiable. Everything because from the fall of humanity “sin entered into the world and with sin, death” (Rm 5:12) which is the separation between God and man; the consecrated life, incarnated in men and women like you and me, is a call from God destined to some so they can be a sign to all of that which awaits us in Paradise: “At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven” (Mt. 22:30). The consecrated life reminds us who God is and who we are, against the sin of pride of our first parents. It is a reminder not to forget the true reality of things: where we come from and where we are going.
Each consecrated person can summarize his or her own life in the motto of St. Paul: “For me, to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21). Blessed Paul VI affirmed: “Without this concrete sign there would be a danger that the charity which animates the entire Church would grow cold, that the salvific paradox of the Gospel would be blunted, and that the “salt” of faith would lose.
I invite you to stop a moment and reflect: what are some signs that the Lord sends me? How do I allow them to challenge me? If the consecrated life reminds me of the importance of the spiritual reality of my existence, how do I live the Gospel in my everyday life, in the decisions that I am called to make? “The Word is living and transformative: Do I confront it every day and without fear?” (Charles Maria Martini).
Pope Francis asked in the letter to us consecrated to open the doors of our convents and make ourselves known, to share also with others that which we live. It is an invitation that also we Apostles of the Interior Life have made our own and, like Jesus, repeat to the young people: come and see. We asked our Ruth, who on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12) will take her vows to become the seventeenth Apostle of the Interior Life, to share with us that which she is living: “It is a special grace for me to be taking my vows during the brief period in which the Year for Consecrated Life and the Jubilee of Mercy overlap, because I see my calling as a sign of God’s great mercy and tenderness. In fact, if I were to respond to the question: “Who is Jesus to me?” I would answer that He is the Merciful Bridegroom. Despite my many limits, sins, and wounds, or rather, many times precisely through the experience of my own weakness, I sense His voice and His touch which tell me: you are My desire, Ruth, and I want you to be Mine for all eternity.”
A vocation (which indeed is a call) can be welcomed like a gift. As time passes, I realize more and more, recounts Joel, in formation with the male branch of our community, that my vocation is a pure gift given to me by my Father who knows me, loves me, and therefore desires the best possible life for me. With my “yes”, He has transformed my life through grace and fulfilled my deepest desires for love and communion with Him and His people.
Do I let myself be challenged by this word: how do I live my vocation, whatever it be? Do I try to name and maybe write down the gifts that I also received from the Father?
If the consecrated life is really this gift, then we wish that many young people are open to receive it, maybe your son/daughter, brother or sister or grandchild. Would this not be really a great gift for all the family? It is a gift that then becomes an invitation for me to make a total gift of my life in the service of God and His Church. It is in this constant exchange of love with our Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit that I experience authentic and enduring peace and joy. I can imagine no greater joy than a life centered around the person of Christ and oriented toward the salvation of souls and the glory of God! These are again the words of Joel that show us how the consecrated person is profoundly fulfilled and completely happy as each human heart desires.
The Lord knows that a call to the consecrated life can be difficult for the families from which it arises. The Lord looks on them with solidarity and tenderness; this Vocation belongs to the supernatural world and, only in this light, can be received and understood. The particular intercession of Mary accompanies the journey of the parents like only a Mother can do, she that has lived the unique vocation of her Son.
We continue then to pray so that vocations are not “missed calls”, but that the “calls of God” are heard and responded to. We pray: Heavenly Father, in Your immense goodness You continue to love humanity and to call men and women to follow You with an undivided heart. May their hearts be open to receive Your word. May they, Your sheep, follow You, their Good Shepherd, and respond to Your voice with generosity like the Apostles who followed You in service of Your Church. Amen.