Sunday, November 27, 2022

A Celebration of Consecrated Life

The Church celebrates World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life on Feb. 2 and in parishes over the weekend of Feb. 6-7. It’s a special time for the Church to celebrate the gift of consecrated life and pray for men and women discerning a consecrated vocation.

Instituted by St. Pope John Paul II in 1997, World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life is celebrated in conjunction with the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas Day, which commemorates through the blessing and lighting of candles that Christ is the light of the world. So too, those in consecrated life are called to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to all peoples.

The following commentary by Sister Sophia Marie Peralta, SCC, reflects on her experiences at the recent National Religious Vocation Conference and the hope and beauty of consecrated life.

To Give You a Future of Hope

“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, … so as to give you a future of hope.”1

As a newer entrant to religious life, I was blessed to have been invited to attend the NRVC Convocation – “2020 Vision: Focus on Hope” at the end of October. Although held virtually this year, the energy, zeal, love and hope for religious life of the close to 400 Vocation Directors and guests, was evident through the dynamic talks, small group discussions and heartfelt sharing.

“Be not afraid, for I am with you”! How not to be filled with hope for the future of religious life amid the changing demographics, when the flame of love for the Beloved is burning brightly and so alive in so many who “know him in whom [they] have believed”! It is “the God of hope [who fills us] with all joy and peace in believing, so that [we] may abound in hope by the power of the holy Spirit”.

Just as John the Baptist gave testimony to Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God” and the two disciples began to follow him, we too, through our vowed life, give witness to the beauty, depth, richness, joy, love and never ending possibilities of religious life.

“What are you looking for?” is the question Jesus continues to pose to countless souls during each generation, and with his “Come, and you will see” invites them to peak through the veil of this unique way of life and enter into its mystery. As Pope Francis remarks: “Consecrated life [is] an encounter with Christ. It is he who comes to us…and we go toward him guided by the Holy Spirit.”2

From this encounter, deep within the soul of the consecrated, Christ’s words: “Do you love me?”, “do you love me more than these?” begin to resound. And just like Mary, who “conceived in her heart before she conceived in her womb”, with our whole lives we respond FIAT, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”

This beautiful dialogue of the soul is captured in the retreat notes of Blessed Pauline von Mallinckrodt, the foundress of the Sisters of Christian Charity, during her first retreat at the age of 24:

“With such great love You seek souls. You knock at their door and beg admittance. … I sought Your honor in external works. For Your honor and glory I wished to help Your brethren; whereas, that which You actually were asking of me I failed to hear in the turmoil and noise of the outer world, “My daughter, give Me your heart.” Oh, I thank You that You did not cease to seek me.  May You alone be the subject of my thoughts and aspirations, You alone my happiness forever and ever. Stay with me and teach me what it means to be a handmaid of the Lord and to act according to His word. In You alone I place all my trust. Lord, help me. Amen.”3

Sisters share in the joy of celebration at the Diocese’s annual Jubilee Mass in 2019.
A religious Sister interacts with a participant at the Diocese’s Fiat Days vocation retreat in 2019.

Yes, every time we “find Him whom [our] soul loves” there is hope! You “caught sight of the treasure worth more than any worldly good,” says Pope Francis “Why?..  Because you fell in love with Jesus, you saw everything in him, and enraptured by his gaze, you left the rest behind. Religious life is this vision,” continues Pope Francis. “It means seeing what really matters in life. It means welcoming the Lord’s gift with open arms… This is what the eyes of consecrated men and women behold: the grace of God poured into their hands which says: ‘Everything is gift, all is grace’.  We did not deserve religious life; it is a gift of love that we have received.”4

Gift! “All is gift”, says Mother Pauline, “what most tender love is due him.” This gift of love is the hope for the future of religious life. A holy love that “emanates from that fire of God’s love, which should burn constantly in our hearts; shine upon the countenance, sparkle in the eye and radiate from the lips.”  A love that sees possibilities and communion. A love that lives in hope and believes because as Pope Francis addressed in his letter to all Consecrated, “this hope is not based on statistics or accomplishments, but on the One in whom we have put our trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:2), the One for whom ‘nothing is impossible’ (Lk 1:37). This is the hope which does not disappoint; it is the hope which enables consecrated life to keep writing its great history well into the future. It is to that future that we must always look, conscious that the Holy Spirit spurs us on so that he can still do great things with us.”

A “hope [that] does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”! What a grace to continue to see this hope alive and thriving in the newer members of Religious Life, as is evidenced by the findings of the 2020 Study on Recent Vocations to Religious Life  conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) for the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC). This study highlights the following five major areas:

  • “ENDLESS CALL: Women and men continue to respond to the call to religious life
  • APPEAL: They are drawn by prayer, spirituality, charism, community life, and mission
  • ATTRIBUTES: Culturally diverse; embrace intercultural, intergenerational living
  • LIFESTYLE: Committed to living simply and in solidarity with the poor
  • OUTLOOK: Filled with abundant hope for religious life amid changing demographics”5

Veni, Sponsa Christi! Come, Spouse of Christ, receive the crown which the Lord has prepared for you since time everlasting! Yes! The story of a soul captivated by the love that never ends continues and will continue to be written in the hearts of the many called to religious life each time our resounding FIAT joins the echo of all those YESes of generations past, and continues to reverberate through time for those YESes still yet to come!

“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.”5

 

1 Jeremiah 29:11
2  Homily of Pope Francis, Feast of The Presentation of the Lord on the occasion of the 18th World Day for Consecrated Life
3  Blessed Pauline von Mallinckrodt, Retreat Notes of 1842
4 Homily of Pope Francis, Feast of The Presentation of the Lord on the occasion of the 24th World Day for Consecrated Life
5 Psalm 116 12-14

(Photos by Chris Heisey and Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

By Sister Sophia Marie Peralta, SCC, Special to The Witness

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