Aims of the Year for Consecrated Life

We are presently in the “Year for Consecrated Life,” which began on the First Sunday of Advent (Nov. 30, 2014) and which will conclude on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, Feb. 2, 2016. These special “years” in the Church are often longer than 12 months/365 days, because the purpose of them is not to fill up a calendar, but to reflect upon a certain aspect of the Church’s life and see how we can live it better. 

Back on November 21, the feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple (one of the feast days which holds particular relevance to many religious), the pope wrote to all the religious Sisters, Brothers and priests and explained that he had decided to have this special year, “In response to requests from many of you and from the” Vatican department responsible for religious. It was timed to coincide with “the 50th 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.”

In terms of what would be the objective of this special year, Pope Francis wrote, “I have chosen as the aims of this year the same ones which St. John Paul II proposed to the whole Church at the beginning of the third millennium, reiterating, in a certain sense, what he had written, ‘You have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished! Look to the future, where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things’” (Vita Consecrata, 110).

The first aim is a historical one — Pope Francis termed it “to look to the past with gratitude.” Being a religious himself (a Jesuit), the pope wrote as one of them: “All our institutes are heir to a history rich in charisms [editor: this means gifts of the Holy Spirit]. At their origins we see the hand of God Who, in His Spirit, calls certain individuals to follow Christ more closely, to translate the Gospel into a particular way of life, to read the signs of the times with the eyes of faith and to respond creatively to the needs of the Church.”

The pope then suggested that this historical review in each order include “Recounting our history [because it is] essential for preserving our identity, for strengthening our unity as a family and our common sense of belonging in order to grasp the high ideals, and the vision and values which inspired them, beginning with the founders and foundresses and the first communities. In this way we come to see how the charism has been lived over the years, the creativity it has sparked, the difficulties it encountered and the concrete ways those difficulties were surmounted. We may also encounter cases of inconsistency, the result of human weakness and even at times a neglect of some essential aspects of the charism.”

The second aim that the pope proposed to the religious was “to live the present with passion, to implement ever more fully the essential aspects of our consecrated life. The question we have to ask ourselves during this year is if and how we, too, are open to being challenged by the Gospel; whether the Gospel is truly the ‘manual’ for our daily living and the decisions we are called to make. Is Jesus really our first and only love, as we promised He would be when we professed our vows? Only if He is, will we be empowered to love, in truth and mercy, every person who crosses our path, for we will have learned from Jesus the meaning and practice of love. We will be able to love because we have His own heart.”

Moving from the Spiritual reflection of religious regarding their prayerful relationship with Christ, the pope then wanted them to assess their external works. “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?” 

Turning back inward again, this time into the internal life of the given orders, Pope Francis told them that they need to be “experts in communion. In a polarized society, where different cultures experience difficulty in living alongside one another, where the powerless encounter oppression, where inequality abounds, we are called to offer a concrete model of community which, by acknowledging the dignity of each person and sharing our respective gifts, makes it possible to live as brothers and sisters. Live the mysticism of encounter, which entails the ability to hear, to listen to other people; the ability to seek together ways and means. Live in the light of the loving relationship of the three Divine Persons (cf. 1 Jn 4:8), the model for all interpersonal relationships.”

The pope’s third aim for this year is that religious “embrace the future with hope. 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. But it is precisely amid these uncertainties, we are called to practice the virtue of hope. This hope is not based on statistics or accomplishments, but on 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. So do not yield to the temptation to see things in terms of numbers and efficiency, and even less to trust in your own strength. I urge you not to ‘join the ranks of the prophets of doom who proclaim the end or meaninglessness of the consecrated life in the Church in our day; rather, clothe yourselves in Jesus Christ and put on the armor of light — as St. Paul urged (cf. Rom 13:11-14) — keeping awake and watchful’” (quoting Benedict XVI’s homily on Feb. 2, 2013). 

While we pray for the religious amongst us to carry out these aims, it would be good for all of us to make this examination of conscience of our own relationship with God, in our prayer, in our works and in our community.

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