This is the 15th year that the Church has celebrated February 2 as “The World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life.” Consecrated Life, more popularly called Religious Life in our culture, celebrates the gift that women and men freely make to dedicate their lives to God by embracing the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. This is usually done through membership in a religious community or a society of apostolic life.
The purpose of the day is threefold:
• to praise and thank the Lord for the gift of consecrated life;
• to promote knowledge and appreciation of it among the whole people of God;
• to invite all those who have dedicated their lives totally to the cause of the Gospel to celebrate the marvels that the Lord has worked in them.
Consecrated life and its personification of the Gospel message is at the very heart of the Church. It consists of men and women, priests, brothers and sisters who belong to religious orders and societies of apostolic life, consecrated virgins, hermits and members of secular institutes. The Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, made it clear that consecrated life has not only been a help and support for the Church in the past, but is also a precious and necessary gift for the present and future of the People of God, since it is an intimate part of the Church’s life, holiness and mission. (cf. Vita Consecrata #3)
Consecrated life has experienced many changes in its outward expression in recent years and it may experience more in the future, but there will be no change in the radical gift of self to God for the love of the Lord and the service of His people. How blessed we are in the Diocese of Syracuse for the gifted and selfless lives of over 380 devoted women and men religious who are an integral part of the life of this local Church!
As I write this article, in my mind’s eye there is an endless parade of women and men who devoted themselves to Christ and have had a profound impact on me. Among them are my teachers, my friends, my coworkers, my fellow students, my confessors and spiritual directors, people who have walked with me on the journey of life and left an indelible impression. Some are members of cloistered communities who quietly pray for all of us during the sunny days and the dark nights of life’s journey. Many have gone before me marked with the sign of faith and now dwell in one of the many mansions prepared by God for those who love Him. Although not canonized by the Church, I know they rejoice in the happiness of eternity where they praise God forever. Others continue to walk with me and inspire me with their joy-filled and holy lives. I count among these the sisters, brothers, and priests with whom I have been privileged to work since coming to the Diocese of Syracuse.
Perhaps you, too, can recall sisters, brothers and priests who were an influence in your formative years, who taught you the ways of faith; who nursed a loved one who was sick; who reached out in friendship at a time of need. Take a moment to pray for them if they have preceded you into eternal life. If they are still among us send them a note or make a telephone call to tell them what they have meant to you.
This year we celebrate the 125th anniversary of the foundation of our diocese. Think of the thousands of members of consecrated life who have labored here in this diocese during those years. Consider not only the service they provided in various ministries but most especially their priceless witness to the Gospel and the primacy of the love of God. Praise God for His goodness evident in the lives of these men and women.
There should be in our hearts and on our lips a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for the gift of consecrated life. If it did not exist how much poorer the world would be! While we often think of the particular gifts members of consecrated life bring to the Church, we sometimes forget the value of the witness that only they can give by being who they are.
Please join me in grateful prayer for those who have in the past embraced the consecrated life, loving God and serving His people. Likewise, we pray for those men and women who presently live the consecrated life. As we do so, let us also ask God to inspire our young people to be generous in responding to God’s call in their lives. May they be encouraged by the words of our Holy Father, Benedict the XVI: “Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and He gives you everything . . . yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ and you will find true life.” The men and women who “open the doors” of their lives to Christ and accept the invitation to embrace the consecrated life, will find happiness, fulfillment and much peace.
May our local Church receive the blessing of many young people eager to make the selfless and radical gift of themselves to God and the needs of His people through the consecrated life.
If you have a prayer intention that you wish me to remember, please forward it to me at P.O. Box 511, Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.