The Year of Consecrated Life

This Sunday the Church joyfully begins the Year of Consecrated Life, announced by Pope Francis a year ago.

There’s a practical genius behind ecclesiastical holy years, which focus the attention of the Church on an important aspect of Christian faith and life that needs to be more appreciated and lived. 

St. John Paul II, who experienced the importance of holy years in forming and strengthening people in faith under communism in Poland, convened holy years to celebrate and give greater focus to our Redemption (1983), Mary (1987), Jesus Christ (1997), the Holy Spirit (1998), God the Father (1999), the Jubilee (2000), the Rosary (2002-3), and the Eucharist (2004-5). 

Pope Benedict picked up from there, convoking holy years dedicated to St. Paul (2008-9), the Priesthood (2009-2010) and the Christian Faith (2012-3). 

Now Pope Francis has called his first. It’s fitting that he, the first pope from a religious order since 1846, would be the one to call the first Year of Consecrated Life in Church history.

It may seem strange, though, at least on the surface, that he is calling it now, when he is obviously seeking to concentrate his attention and the scrutiny of the Church and the world on the challenges to the family, with a two-part synod and next September’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. 

Rather than serving as a distraction from the necessary and urgent consideration that the family needs, however, the Year of Consecrated Life, if marked and lived profoundly, will serve as a very helpful complement. 

Many of the biggest challenges facing the family come from the loss of awareness of the radical Spiritual dimension of Marriage and family and from the provocations flowing from modern confusions regarding love, freedom, commitment, possessions and community. The prophetic dimension of the consecrated life, lived out as a totally committed, spousal communion with the poor, chaste and obedient Christ, ought to bring much clarity to some of the causes to familial difficulties and dissolution. 

Likewise those in consecrated life can learn much from the successes and struggles of married couples and families to help them diagnose why certain communities may be thriving while others are collapsing. 

Just as for Marriages and families to survive and thrive, Sacramental graces cannot be taken for granted but must be continuously relied on and faithfully and persistently responded to, so for consecrated vocations and communities to persevere and prosper, the graces of foundational charisms and the call to the perfection of holiness can’t be taken for granted but must be steadily renewed. 

It is important not to let the Year of Consecrated Life, however, be eclipsed by the Church’s response to the crisis of the family. The Church truly needs this holy year. 

We need this year first to thank God for the gift of the consecrated life. 

We need this year to show appreciation to all those who have said yes to God’s calling to dedicate themselves to Him as monks and cloistered nuns, as religious Brothers and Sisters, members of secular institutes and societies of apostolic life, consecrated virgins, hermits, widows and widowers all of whom make the virtues and values of Jesus more visible and point us from the superficial to the Sacred and the ephemeral to the eternal. 

We need this year to help bring about, in some areas, the renewal of consecrated life and in all areas a greater attentiveness to God’s calling others to embrace this way of life. 

And we need this year to help rediscover the essence of the Christian life and the meaning of our baptismal consecration. 

As St. John Paul II wrote in Vita Consecrata, his profound 1996 exhortation on the consecrated life and its mission in the Church and in the world, which I’d urge everyone to read during this upcoming Holy Year: “The consecrated life is not something isolated and marginal, but a reality that affects the whole Church. The consecrated life is at the very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission, since it manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling and the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse.” 

“By professing the evangelical counsels,” St. John Paul II continued, “consecrated persons not only make Christ the whole meaning of their lives but strive to reproduce in themselves, as far as possible, that form of life which He, as the Son of God, accepted in entering this world,” imitating through chastity Christ’s own pure love of the Father and others, through poverty Christ’s own self-emptying to proclaim and obtain the imperishable treasure of the Kingdom, through obedience Christ’s own delight in doing the Father’s will in all things. 

These prophetic choices constitute a compelling response, respectively, to the hedonism, materialism and autonomous individualism of the modern age that undermine faith and communal life. They are an abiding reenactment of Christ’s Own choices for the Kingdom, a powerful affirmation of the primacy of God and eternal life, and a rich manifestation of the path to rediscover the values of fraternal communion that reigned in the apostolic Church. 

In the midst of a utilitarian and technocratic culture that can consider the consecrated life a pointless “waste,” consecrated men and women remind all of us that the Lord is to be loved with lavish generosity, indeed, with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. 

Consecrated men and women are living signs of the resurrection who keep the Church’s salt from losing its flavor and its love from growing cold. 

They enflesh for us that “only one thing is necessary” and inspire us to choose “the better part” and the “pearl of great price.” 

That’s why the Church needs this year and needs it now. Let’s pray that all of us in the Church, and especially those in consecrated life, may live it well — and radically. 

Anchor columnist Father Landry is pastor of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River.

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts