Pope Francis has proclaimed a Year of Consecrated Life on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, which speaks of religious in its sixth chapter, and of the Decree Perfectae Caritatis on the renewal of religious life. The Year has begun on November 30, 2014, the First Sunday of Advent, and will conclude with the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple on February 2, 2016.
Catholics on Call is committed to supporting young adults as they explore their vocation in the Church as lay ecclesial ministers, religious sisters or brothers or priests. Taking into account that all vocations are equal before God, we would like to respond to Pope’s Francis’ invitation and celebrate the past, presence and future of the consecrated life with a heart full of gratitude for the many men and women who have served God and God’s people through their commitment to the different forms of consecrated life. We have opened a web page that offers resources and information about the Year of Consecrated Life and would like to share some reflections and witness statements from our alums.
We have invited our alums, those who have entered the consecrated life and those who are following other vocational paths, to reflect on the impact consecrated life has had in their lives, either through their own experience or through other people, friends and mentors.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver
As a child, I periodically experienced a draw, almost desperate, to commit to a consecrated life, without really knowing what that meant. The waves persisted in washing over me into adulthood, and while ambivalent about joining a religious order, I understood the meaning of a consecrated life to be more varied. As its definition indicates, to consecrate is “to make or declare sacred…to devote to a purpose with deep solemnity or dedication (Webster’s Collegiate).” I found myself moved to declare life itself sacred – the tangible manifestation of Divine articulation – and to devote myself to living closer to its roots, responsible for and responsive to God, myself, and those around me; to live kindly, with reverence for life, all life, not least of all the soil and water that we inhabit and by which we are nurtured.
In 2010 I found a home in which I could be both rooted and free to experiment with this concept in the Catholic Worker, a non-hierarchical, community-based movement that emphasizes voluntary poverty in solidarity with the poor, pacifism, and hospitality – loving God and neighbor through daily acts as well as confronting structural injustices in our society. The integrated life of such a community provided me the opportunity to live a consecrated life; devoted to love of God and neighbor, seeking a lived discovery and manifestation of Truth and Love.
This living of love has led me down unexpected paths, including marriage and motherhood. With my husband, Ted, I am developing an experiential understanding of commitment, generosity, tenderness, trust and interdependence that I would have previously thought impossible. Our marital vows launched us on a shared consecrated life, joining in our dedication to love mercy, do justly and walk humbly with our God. The birth and blossoming life of our son has awakened me to truly appreciate the incalculable preciousness of a single, sacred life. He helps me to cultivate responsibility, patience, gentleness and is also often the source of overflowing delight.
The transformation from individual to family has brought new depth and sweetness and challenge to my journey. Yet, it has also challenged a way of being that I had previously taken for granted as the way of consecrating my life to God. I now find that in-house community with the openness and receptivity it requires is a greater struggle than I anticipated when sharing not only myself but also my family. I feel confused, frustrated and torn as my desire for a more private life with husband and child (and children yet to come, God willing) increases, while my patience with the challenges of community diminishes.
Private family life is not, in itself, antithetical to loving and following God. But to choose it as an end in itself, to seek it first, is certainly a deviation from the call to “seek first the Kingdom…” In Luke’s gospel, Jesus announces that those who seek to save their own life will lose it, while those willing to lay down their life, will live (9:22-25). What does this mean, to follow God’s way, to lay down our life in order to live? What does it look like, in the daily-ness of life, to “declare sacred…to dedicate to a purpose”? How do I honor the commitments and responsibilities in my life and at the same time freely offer that life up to God?
Pope Francis, in his announcement of this year’s theme, writes, “This year calls us to live the present with passion. Grateful remembrance of the past leads us, as we listen attentively to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church today, to implement ever more fully the essential aspects of our consecrated life.” I have seen friends and mentors passionately apply their call to the consecrated life with creativity, embracing the Spirit’s unique formation for their particular expression, addressing the needs of their particular time and place – Dominican nuns who have devoted their lives to nuclear disarmament; a young woman revisioning abandoned convents as houses of hospitality for refugees and lay religious; a Jesuit exploring the spirituality of friendship; a mother who gave up her own life ambitions in order to give life to her nine children; a successful businessman who retired to live in solidarity with and support of poor families in rural Kentucky.
These examples give me hope as I seek discernment for how acknowledge my “one wild and precious life” as a sacred gift, a gift meant not to be tucked away but shared. I pray for the wisdom to be grateful for and learn from the past, the courage to dwell mindfully in the present, the insight to live into the future, and for trust that as I walk forward, the Holy Spirit will walk beside me and lean in to whisper, “this is the way, walk in it.”