Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What If Serving the Church Is Seriously Inconvenient?

As regular readers of this blog well know, one facet of consecrated virginity which I find particularly meaningful is a consecrated virgin’s call to be “dedicated to the service of the Church” (a phrase taken verbatim from the Catechism of the Catholic Church from Canon Law).*

The topic of my Master’s thesis, as well the topic of many previous blog posts, was why I feel that it is most appropriate to interpret this call to service literally—i.e., that “dedication to the service of the Church” should be taken to mean that, barring extraordinary or extenuating circumstances, consecrated virgins should be committed to service which is visibly and directly Church-related on something like a full-time basis.

In a nutshell, my reason for arriving at this conclusion is that, if you interpret consecrated virgins’ call to service in a non-literal way, you’re left with two very imperfect options for understanding this aspect of the vocation: either being “dedicated to the service of the Church” means that consecrated virgins are to strive to imbue the secular “marketplace” with Christian values, making the vocation of consecrated virginity most similar in nature to membership in a secular institute; OR “dedication to the service of the Church” means that consecrated virgins are supposed to do whatever volunteer Church-related service they can fit into their schedules during their free time, making this vocation most similar in nature to membership in a secular Third Order or a in lay parish group like the Altar Rosary Society.

Understanding consecrated virginity as being most similar to secular institute membership is theologically problematic because this is an unwarranted and unjustified** superimposition of secular institutes’ specific and very modern charism (i.e., that of being a “hidden leaven” in the world) onto what is an ancient and entirely different form of consecrated life.

Seeing consecrated virginity as being most similar to membership in a secular Third Order or to a lay association is theologically problematic because it suggests that consecrated virginity is not a commitment which is significant enough or in such a way as to warrant any major changes in one’s exterior life. This is at odds with the Church’s understanding of consecrated life in general as involving a complete and total gift of self and a more radical observance of the evangelical councils than would be possible or advisable for most lay people.

But even after establishing some solid theological and canonical grounds for a literal interpretation of what it means for consecrated virgins to be “dedicated to the service of the Church,” often questions arise which relate to the purely practical aspects of this assertion. Here is one such question from a regular reader:

I have a question about working for the Church to directly advance her mission. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but not all of us live in the Archdiocese of New York, where there are numerous Catholic institutions. What about women who live in small, or even large, rural dioceses? These dioceses tend to be poorer, without a lot of resources and with few Catholic institutions. In my diocese, for instance, there is not a single Catholic health care facility. Would a consecrated virgin who was a nurse have to go to another diocese to work in a Catholic sponsored hospital? Or should she quit nursing to become a teacher in one of the few Catholic schools in the diocese, even though she has neither the interest or ability to be a good teacher? —Curious

This question is somewhat complex, in that it touches on several related but distinct issues at one time. But in my reading of this comment, is seems to me that the central question being asked here is whether or not a consecrated virgin would be obligated to serve the Church in a full-time and direct way even in situations where this would be seriously inconvenient.*** (With apologies to “Curious” if it turns out that I’m misunderstanding.)

Given my reading of the question, and assuming that it references a hypothetical situation, my own thought is that the short answer would have to be a qualified “yes.”

That is, in my own OPINION, a true “dedication to the service of the Church” in one’s home diocese is so intrinsic to the vocation of consecrated virginity “lived in the world,” that an aspiring consecrated virgin should be willing to undertake even substantial inconveniences in order to live out this aspect of her calling, or else reconsider her vocation entirely.

Further, as I see it, in order to serve one’s local Church effectively—as well as to emulate the sacrificial love and self-emptying which the Church holds as the ideal for all forms of consecrated life—it’s necessary to take into account the actual needs of one’s diocese, even if these needs do not dovetail perfectly with the kind of work which one would find the most personally fulfilling.

So, speaking purely in principle, if there was an aspiring consecrated virgin who was trained as a nurse, but who lived in a diocese where a nursing apostolate was truly and absolutely impossible, my thought would be that she should either:

- consider some other type of apostolate;
- consider moving to a diocese that did need nurses;
- consider whether or not she might actually be called to some sort of dedicated lay life (e.g., private vows); OR
- consider whether or not she might be called to some other form of consecrated life besides consecrated virginity (such as an active religious community traditionally dedicated to nursing).

But with all that being said, I have to point out that these kinds of abstract considerations are just that—considerations in the abstract. Real-life cases often have nuances which can’t be adequately taken into account within the context of a hypothetical situation.

If a potential consecrated virgin who was in the situation which “Curious” describes came to me asking for advice, I would ask her the following questions or make the following points:

1. Are you absolutely sure that there is no possibility whatsoever of you using your gifts as a nurse within some sort of Catholic institution in your diocese?

With all due respect, to be honest, I guess I have a hard time imagining that in a rural, economically poorer diocese there would be zero need for nurses—if anything, as an outside observer, it seems like such a diocese would needs nurses even more urgently than a place like New York!

Even if there aren’t any Catholic hospitals in your area, is there any other Church-related organization that could use a nurse? Maybe a crisis pregnancy center, or a nursing home, or in one of the many kinds of programs run by Catholic Charities? Is there a Catholic school that needs a school nurse? Or would you be qualified to teach nursing at a local Catholic college? Does your nursing background make it possible to become an NFP instructor? Or could you see yourself transitioning into an apostolate the focused on educating the faithful on Catholic medical ethics? (These are just a few ideas I’m coming up with off the top of my head—I’m sure there are even more possibilities.)

And, in the event that none of these “creative options” involved a paid position, would it be possible for you to work just enough hours in a secular (but Catholic-friendly!) institution to support yourself in a very simply lifestyle, while you devoted a truly substantial amount—perhaps the majority—of your time to pro bono nursing work?

2. Keep in mind that it is theoretically possible to work for the direct advancement of the Church’s mission without necessarily coming under the formal auspices of a Catholic institution. My thought is that a consecrated virgin who, with the approval of her bishop, gave herself over entirely or near-entirely to prayer or charitable works would be indisputably “dedicated to the service of the Church,” even if she wasn’t considered an official diocesan employee.

For one thing, sometimes institutions are not considered “Catholic” or “diocesan” simply because of an administrative technicality. As one example, the Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School is a girls’ high school in Washington, DC, which is run by the Visitation nuns of Georgetown. Even though the students there take theology classes, learn about Catholic values, have the opportunity to attend daily Mass, and see plenty of fully-habited nuns on campus, the school is not considered a “Catholic school,” but a “private school in the Catholic tradition.” However, this distinction is due only to comparatively minor administrative details, such as not being bound by the local diocesan-wide academic calendar.

In other words, you could hardly argue that the Visitation nuns were not serving the Church simply because their educational apostolate doesn’t include a “Catholic school.”

Likewise, the apostolates of many active religious congregations wasn’t considered an “official” work of the Church at the time of their foundation, since as emerging communities they were not recognized as being formal representatives of the Church.

E.g., when Bl. Theresa of Calcutta first went out to serve the poorest of the poor, initially she was simply performing acts of mercy on what was essentially, from a canonical point of view, her own initiate. The corporate apostolate of the Missionaries of Charity wouldn’t be recognized and formally endorsed by the Church until many years later. Yet, since Mother Theresa’s intention in working among the poor was to manifest the love of Christ, and since this can rightly be considered an extension of the Church’s charitable mission, it would be wrong to say that Mother Theresa was doing anything other than serving the Church in a direct and literal way.

Also, some forms of service don’t really lend themselves to “institutionalization.” For instance, I think it would be perfectly legitimate (albeit not very practical in a lot of cases) for a consecrated virgin to be “dedicated to the service of the Church” through an apostolate of full-time prayer in the context of a contemplative, semi-eremitic lifestyle. Yet, embarking on this particular way of life is a far cry from being hired by an institution.

Similarly, I think there are many conceivable situations where a consecrated virgin could—with the approval of her bishop—take the initiative in developing her own apostolate. I could easily imagine a consecrated virgin serving the Church through something like making vestments, tutoring disadvantaged children, writing books and free lance articles on Catholic spirituality, creating Catholic art, using her professional legal training to do advocacy work for the poor, studying psychology to become a Catholic counselor with her own private practice, and so on.

3. In some ways, to me it seems like it might actually be easier for a consecrated virgin from a small rural diocese to find a way to be directly and explicitly “dedicated to the service of the Church,” than it would be for a consecrated virgin from a large metropolitan See.

As much as I absolutely love being a part of the Archdiocese of New York, to be honest I have to admit that there are drawbacks as well as benefits to being a consecrated virgin in such a huge urban-centered archdiocese. While I appreciate, among other things, the vibrant and diverse Catholic culture here, our rich historical background, the great number of solid local religious communities, and the many nearby cultural and educational resources, at the same time the sheer size of the Archdiocese could tend to make it easier for a consecrated virgin to get “lost in the woodwork.”

On the other hand, it seems to me that an aspiring consecrated virgin from a small rural diocese would be more likely to have a vibrant, personal relationship with her bishop. This in turn could foster a more in-depth, carefully considered and truly mutual discernment of the aspiring consecrated virgin’s gifts and skills vis-à-vis the needs of the diocese.

4. Speaking as respectfully as possible, is there some aspect of your discernment you might need to reconsider?

Are you really sure that you couldn’t fulfill God’s will for you in any apostolate besides full-time nursing? When you’re being as honest as possible with yourself and with the Lord in prayer, do you feel that nursing is truly your vocation, or does it just seem to be the most logical way to use what you perceive as your gifts? While it’s important for us to be good stewards and to employ our best human judgment in using the gifts we have been given wisely, sometimes there can be a bit of a gap between what God actually does want of us and what we think would make the most sense for God to want of us.

If nursing was utterly impossible in your diocese, would moving really be all that bad? Is their another diocese where you could imagine feeling just as “at home” as the place where you live now? Or do you think God could be calling you—almost like a missionary—to pack up and move in order to love and serve Him in a place where your gifts are most needed?

Or are you sure that you’re called to be a consecrated virgin in the first place? If being a nurse is such a central component to your experience of vocation, perhaps that’s a sign that God is actually calling you to be a Sister in a congregation with a nursing apostolate. (And there are some great ones out there, like the Hawthorn Dominicans and the Little Sisters of the Poor). Or, maybe you’re called to join a secular institute, or else to make a private vow on your own.

5. Even if your diocese’s greatest, most pressing need was for Catholic school teachers, you wouldn’t necessarily have to become a teacher if you were sincerely convinced that teaching would be a completely horrible “fit” for you. While I believe that consecrated virgin are, with very few exceptions, indisputably called to be literally dedicated to direct service of the Church, I think it would be wrong to assume that consecrated virgins are necessarily called to any one specific type of apostolate (even within a particular diocese).

And although I personally don’t think that I would, in my own life, have a problem if I were asked to serve the Church in the context of a religious life-type structure of formal obedience (i.e., where you go where you’re sent, regardless of how you happen to feel about your assignment), on a theological level I actually don’t think this is the most appropriate system of ecclesial service for consecrated virgins “in the world.”

The Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity itself seems to envision a sort of mutual discernment between the bishop and the consecrated virgin in determining the exact way in which the consecrated virgin is to serve the Church. In number 2 of the gereral introduction of the Rite, it states that consecrated virgins are to “spend their time in works of penance and of mercy, in apostolic activity, and in prayer, according to their state in life and spiritual gifts” (my emphasis).

The bottom line is that, while certainly consecrated virgins should always be willing and even eager to “empty themselves” by putting the needs of their diocese above their own personal preferences, I don’t think that consecrated virgins’ call to service should ever be misunderstood as an obligation to undertake a type of work for which one is totally unsuited, unqualified, or incompetent.

Above all, we would be wrong and terribly mistaken if we were to understand a call to a life of direct, Church-related service as being anything at all like (as has at times been suggested) a way for the hierarchy to obtain cheap labor from an unquestioning celibate workforce. The theology of consecrated life, especially as it pertains to service, is so much richer than that!

As I see it, a consecrated virgin’s vocation to service is first and foremost a vocation to manifest, in a concrete manner, her spousal love of Jesus and her maternal love of the souls in her diocese. (And could anyone really argue that it would be inappropriate for a consecrated virgin to make sacrifices and “spend herself” for the sake of souls, since everyday we see natural mothers “spending themselves” for the sake of their natural children?)

A call to be “dedicated to the service of Church” is undoubtedly a call to generosity and self-sacrifice; it is emphatically NOT a call to abandon human prudence and common sense.


* See CCC 923; canon 604.1.

** I know “unwarranted” and “unjustified” might sound like inflammatory words, but I truly don’t mean them to take on this sort of tone. All I’m trying to say is that there isn’t anything in the Church’s history, tradition, or current authoritative documents which actively suggests that consecrated virginity should have a spirituality or charism similar to that of secular institutes.

*** But in referring to “seriously inconvenient” circumstances, I’m not talking about matters of life or death! If a consecrated virgin really and truly were to have absolutely no other options besides working in a secular job in order to support herself in the basic necessities of life, then of course I would not fault her for this.

Likewise, with the popular understanding of consecrated virginity being what it is right now, I think that those virgins who were consecrated when they were in their fifties, sixties, and seventies are now called simply to do the best they can in striving to live a life of service. While I personally belive that it would be commendable for an older consecrated virgin to prayerfully discern changing careers in order to devote more time to direct service of the Church, I do appreciate the fact that in many cases it may be prohibitively difficult or else gravely imprudent for middle-aged or elderly woman to seek to make such a radical change.

Monday, February 14, 2011

How Do I Make a Private Vow?

Here is a question I received in the comment box of my recent post, “Consecrated Virginity versus Private Vows”:

I would like to make a private vow of virginity before making my Consecration [of] Virginity vows and was wondering if there are any private vow prayers that are already written out that I can pray. And what would you suggest of what one can do to live their private vows?

Thank You and God Bless You! —Karen

Dear Karen,

First of all, forgive me for correcting one small detail in your original question: I just have to point out that the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity doesn’t actually involve a vow per se.

Consecrated virgins do publically state their resolution to persevere in a life of perpetual virginity (this occurs twice in the Rite of Consecration: in the examination following the homily, and in the formula for the “renewal of intention” which is spoken by the candidate immediately before the central consecratory prayer). However, this commitment is not technically the same thing as a vow, although I think it would probably qualify as one of the “other sacred bonds” that Canon Law frequently mentions.

Still, the constitutive action in a solemn consecration to a life of virginity is the candidate’s RECEPTION of the prayer of consecration from a bishop. A consecrated virgin is consecrated passively by an action of the Church, much in the same way as a Church building is passively consecrated. This is in contrast to (for example) professing religious vows, as the making of a vow is an action which the candidate actively does.

Of course, there is a “passive” element in the consecration which occurs through the profession of religious vows, in that the Church must formally receive them through the witness of a duly authorized representative (such as a religious superior) in order for such vows to be valid. But in one sense, through their active profession of vows religious could almost be thought of as “consecrating themselves.” Likewise, the profession of any type of vow or promise—including private vows—is a similarly “active” action.

Even though consecration to a life of virginity does not number among the seven Sacraments, because of its “passive” nature it could perhaps be thought of as “working” like one. This is why it is generally understood that there can be no true dispensations from consecration to a life of virginity—the Church can’t “un-consecrate” a virgin anymore than she could “un-bless” a sacred object or “un-do” a Sacrament. However, a religious can in some circumstances be dispensed from his or her vows, because the Church is able to release individuals from the promises they have made and can relieve them from the obligations which these promises have subsequently imposed.*

Because the passive dynamic of consecrated virginity is so different from the active dynamic of professing vows, I would be concerned if the making of a vow per se (i.e., in the more limited technical definition of the term “vow”) was assumed to be an intrinsic part of the charism of consecrated virginity “lived in the world.” To me this would seem to run the risk of tying to fit consecrated virgins inappropriately into a paradigm proper to religious life, which could tend to undermine the uniqueness of consecrated virginity as a distinct vocation within the Church. Because of this (among other reasons), I don’t think that the profession of a private vow should ever be regarded as a mandatory step in the process of becoming a consecrated virgin.

But with all that being said, I do think that many aspiring consecrated virgins could find it spiritually and humanly helpful to make a private vow at some point in their discernment.

On a very personal note, when I was still in college I made a private, temporary vow of virginity under the guidance and with the support of a spiritual director. My motivation for doing this was mostly that, since I was absolutely head-over-heals in love with Jesus and (having been endowed with all the patience of a young twenty-something! ;-) ), I just couldn’t stand the thought of waiting any longer to make at least some sort of commitment to Him. But for other women, I can imagine how a period of living a privately-vowed commitment to dedicated virginity could be helpful as a means of testing or strengthen their resolve, or of discerning in a more concrete, practical way whether or not they truly feel called to a spousal relationship with Christ. (And my thought is that the best way for an aspiring consecrated virgin to “live out” a private vow is simply to live, as fully as possible, the lifestyle she intends to have after receiving the Rite of Consecration.)

However, I think that the decision to make a private vow as a preparation, whether remote or proximate, for receiving the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity should be between the aspiring consecrated virgin and her spiritual director. While it most cases it might also be appropriate for the aspirant to discuss this step with whoever is officially responsible for the formation of consecrated virgins in her diocese, because a private vow is essentially a matter of conscience, I don’t think there should ever be pressure to make a private vow from the “outside” (that is, in what we would call the “external forum”).**

For a woman making a private vow specifically as a preparatory step for receiving the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity, my own opinion is that they should profess this vow in a very low-key kind of way. I.e., I think it would be best for her to have only a handful of witness (if that many), and to be somewhat selective with whom she shares her decision to make a private vow. My thought is that a large, festive celebration connected with a private vow might tend to undermine the actual Rite of Consecration as the principal vocational commitment in a woman’s life. Also, I would be concerned that, if aspiring consecrated virgins were very open about living under private vows, this could cause confusion among the faithful or blur the distinction between private devotional commitments and the public liturgy of the Church.

For women who do not intend to become consecrated virgins, but who choose to make a private vow of chastity or virginity because they feel called to live as privately-vowed laywomen, I think the situation is somewhat different. If your main vocation in life is to make a private vow, then by all means you should celebrate it! I think it would be very appropriate for a woman in this situation to invite her family and friends to witness her private vow, to have a party immediately afterward, or perhaps even to wear a wedding dress if she felt drawn to this. (As one example, the author of the blog “Mulier Fortis” describes her profession of private vows here.)***

For both cases—that is, aspiring consecrated virgins who make private vows during their formation or discernment, as well as women who feel called to private vows as their main vocation—here are a few points to keep in mind:

1. Private vows are private and thus non-liturgical, so the Church does not provide any pre-written formula for private vows. If you feel called to make a private vow, I strongly recommended that you write your own formula. I think this would be the most fitting course of action, anyway—since private vows are a form of personal devotion, I feel that it’s best for the words used in a private vow to come straight from the heart of the individual who will be making the vow.

2. If you need inspiration for what to write in your own private vow formula, one starting point might be to look at the various formulae used for religious vows in different communities. However, in composing a private vow formula, you should NOT include anything that suggests that your private vow is being officially accepted by an authorized authority, or in the name of the Church. It should be clear from the wording of your vow that you are engaging in what is simply a private act of personal devotion.

3. Another place to find inspiration might be in some of the writings of the saints who made private vows. But, when you write a private vow, be very honest with yourself and make sure that you’re not promising anything that’s beyond your capacity. (For example, do not read Come, Be My Light and decide to imitate Bl. Theresa of Calcutta by vowing “never to refuse God anything” under pain of mortal sin. Mother Theresa was capable of keeping this vow. Most Catholics—myself included—are not.) It’s best to show your proposed private vow formula to your spiritual director before you actually make your vow.

4. In some instances, in might be possible and desirable to make a private vow right before or right after a Mass. Especially in the case of a woman who is making a private vow as her main vocational commitment, it might even work out that she could profess her vow immediate following a small, “invitation only” Mass offered for specially her and her intentions as she comes to such a definitive point in her spiritual life. But, a private vow should NEVER be made during Mass, or in the course of any of the Church’s liturgies. This is because the Church is, as a rule, opposed to the combining of liturgical prayer and private devotions.

5. If you make a private vow, remember that while you are not canonically bound to observe it, you are still morally bound. In other words, while the laws of the Church do not specify any consequences for failing to keep a private vow, a private vow is still a serious promise made to God. Therefore, a private vow is a step which should be discerned carefully. In particular, one element which needs to be discerned is whether you should make a life-long vow, a temporary vow, or a temporary vow which will be renewed periodically, or a temporary vow which will eventually lead into a life-long vow. If something unforeseen happens in your life where you find yourself unable to honor a private vow, should you take the step of having the vow properly dispensed—which is fairly simple, since many clerics (such as the pastor of whatever parish is geographically closest to you) have the authority to dispense a member of the faithful from a private vow.


* But with all this being said, I don’t want to undermine the fact that professed religious are indeed truly and fully consecrated by their vows! If any religious would like to elaborate on the consecratory nature of the vows in the combox for this post, their input would be very welcome here.

** For those unfamiliar with this terminology, in questions and practices relating to formation, there is a distinction which always needs to be made between the “internal forum” and the “external forum.” The internal forum is basically an individual soul’s personal, interior relationship with God—i.e., the internal forum involves the kinds of things that would be discussed in spiritual direction or in the Sacrament of Penance. The internal forum is always supposed to be treated with strict—and in some cases, absolute—confidentiality. On the other hand, the external forum has to do with a person’s manifest attitudes and observable behavior. E.g., the question of whether or not someone shows up at Mass everyday is something which can be asked in the external forum; the kinds of spiritual consolations that person experiences while at Mass is something which should be discussed only in the context of the internal forum.

Because the internal forum represents the area where we are all at our most vulnerable, those in authority who would make the decision as to whether or not a candidate is to be ordained, consecrated, or professed are typically forbidden from having access to information proper to the internal forum. For example, in seminaries, the priest-professors who vote on whether or not a seminarian should go on to priesthood are not allowed to hear seminarians’ confessions under any circumstances other than danger of death.

*** I think “Mulier Fortis” is a good blog for those who are discerning life-long private vows as a vocation. But one of the only things I have a reservation about is the way that the author describes having a somewhat elaborate ceremony to renew her private vows every year. Naturally I don’t want to criticize this if it works for her and her parish, but my recommendation for someone with a vocation to life-long private vows would be to have only one vow ceremony (with possibly some commemoration of the anniversary.)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Now for something a little different…

For a bit of a change of pace around here, here is a talk on World Day for Consecrated Life which I gave at my “work parish” this morning as a post-Communion reflection at the weekly children’s Mass.

For obvious reasons, it’s very different from the kinds of things I usually write. (There’s nothing quite like trying basically to summarize your Master’s thesis topic into a five-minute presentation aimed at grade-school children and their parents!) Still, I think it was about as well-received as I could have hoped—at the very least, I think it might have helped to clarify things for those parishioners who’ve been trying to figure out whether or not I’m a nun! ;-)


Good morning. I know many of you already know me…my name is Jenna Cooper, and I am the Director of Religious Education here at _________ parish. I am also a consecrated virgin of the Archdiocese of New York. I would like to thank Fr. ________ for inviting me to give a short talk on World Day of Consecrated Life, which parishes across the country are celebrating today. (N.b.: In the United States, there is the option of moving parish commemorations of World Day for Consecrated Life to the Sunday after the feast of the Presentation.)

World Day of Consecrated Life was instituted by Pope John Paul II in 1997 as a day to celebrate and prayerfully remember all those men and women who have offered their lives entirely to God in one of the many forms of consecrated life.

To be more specific, when we speak of the “consecrated life,” we are talking about the vocation of those who give their lives to Christ in an especially radical way. Of course, all baptized Catholics are called by God to be followers of Christ, to become holy (and even to become saints!), but consecrated men and women are called to be so focused on Jesus that they freely and joyfully sacrifice some of the best things of this life—like marriage and a family of their own—in order to give God their whole and undivided heart, mind, and attention.

Consecrated life has existed from the very beginning of the Church, and many different kinds of consecrated life have developed over the course of the past two-thousand years of our history.

For example, in the Church today we have cloistered monks and nuns, as well as individual hermits, who spend the majority of their time in silence and solitude praying for the needs of the Church and the salvation of the whole world. We have consecrated virgins (which is what I am), who are women that are called to live as brides of Christ and who dedicate their lives to prayer for, and service to, a particular diocese.

Probably the most familiar form of consecrated life to many of us here are the “active” religious Brothers and religious Sisters. Religious Brothers and religious Sisters make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, while living in communities founded to provide specific kinds of charitable work for the Church, such as teaching, nursing, or working with the poor. Another, perhaps less familiar, form of consecrated life involves groups of priests who join together for a common apostolic purpose, like foreign missionary work, in what is called a “Society of Apostolic Life.” And these are just a few of the ways that someone might be called to serve God as a consecrated person!

At this point, you might be asking yourself, “If we’re all called to be holy, then why does the Church need consecrated life in the first place?”

Some people answer this question by pointing all the good works that consecrated men and women do for the Church. And this is certainly something we can all appreciate—consecrated persons are responsible for a lot of the schools, parishes, hospitals, soup kitchens, and other great organizations that still help a lot of people today. However, as good as these things are, they’re actually not the main reason why the Church needs consecrated life.

A better answer might be that the Church needs consecrated life because the Church always needs people dedicated to praying. This is an important point as well, since prayer is like the powerhouse of the Church—it’s what keeps all of us going, even when times are tough.

However, the best answer of all would be that the Church needs consecrated men and women, because the consecrated life is a sign and reminder of God’s love for all of us, His people.

Consecrated men and women don’t give up the chance of being married, the chance for having children, the opportunity for having nice things, and in most cases the the majority of their time and personal freedom, because they just happen to be naturally strange people who never wanted these things in the first place. No! Consecrated persons give up some of the most worthwhile things this world has to offer because they’ve fallen in love with God, and God alone is enough to fill up their heart.

This shows the whole Church that, since all of us have the love of God, we can always be filled with peace, joy, and hope, no matter what kind of challenges we face. The vocation of consecrated people is to prove with their lives that this kind of love and trust in God is not only possible, but is readily available to everyone who seeks God with a sincere heart.

To finish this talk, I would just like to point out a few things we all can do to help support consecrated life in the Church:

The first is to…

- Pray. Consecrated people spend their lives praying for you, but we’re always grateful for your prayers, too!

- You could also think about taking the time to learn more about the different ways that consecrated life is lived in the Church today.

- Parents: be open if your child is considering a vocation. Remember that if God is calling your child, He is calling them to a life of great joy.

- Young people: prayerfully consider if you might be called!

- Finally, live out your own vocation as best you can. The Church is a family, and when one of us does our best to be holy, it helps the rest of the people of God, in all vocations.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

World Day of Consecrated Life 2011

Here is the full text of the Holy Father’s homily for the fifteenth annual World Day of Consecrated Life (in a translation by Zenit.org). It’s a bit long, but very worthwhile! Emphases, in bold, and comments, in red, are mine.


Dear brothers and sisters!

In today’s feast we contemplate the Lord Jesus whom Mary and Joseph take to the Temple “to present him to the Lord.” (Luke 2:22) Revealed in this evangelical scene is the mystery of the Son of the Virgin, the consecrated One of the Father, who came into the world to carry out his will faithfully. (cf. Hebrews 10:5-7)

Simeon points to him as “light for revelation to the Gentiles,” (Luke 2:32) and proclaims with prophetic word his supreme offer to God and his final victory. (cf. Luke 2:32-35) It is the meeting of the two Testaments, the Old and the New. Jesus enters the ancient Temple, He who is the new Temple of God: He comes to visit his people, bringing to fulfillment obedience to the Law and inaugurating the end times of salvation.

It is interesting to observe close up this entrance of the Child Jesus into the solemnity of the Temple, in the great “coming and going” of so many people, seized by their endeavors: the priests and the Levites with their turns of service, the numerous devotees and pilgrims, desirous of encountering the Holy God of Israel. None of these, however, notice anything. (This is astonishing for me to think about!) Jesus is a child like others, first born son of two very simple parents. Even the priests are incapable of accepting the signs of the new and particular presence of the Messiah and Savior. (One of the challenges of becoming a consecrated virgin at this point in time is that the consecrated virginity as a vocation is frequently overlooked or misunderstood. While I don’t think that this particular difficulty is an intrinsic part of our charism (since consecrated virginity is a PUBLIC state of consecrated life), I still often find helpful in my own spirituality to strive to imitate Jesus in the humility of His Incarnation and in His willingness to be overlooked and unnoticed. The fact that some of the most awesome and glorious events in all of history could be so widely ignored reminds me that it is not human respect or esteem which makes a call from God valuable or “real.”)

Only two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, discover the great novelty. Led by the Holy Spirit, they see in that Child the fulfillment of their long expectation and vigilance. Both contemplate the light of God that comes to illumine the world, with their prophetic gaze open to the future, as proclamation of the Messiah: “Lumen ad revelationem gentium!” (Luke 2:32) In the prophetic attitude of two old people is the entire Ancient Covenant, which expresses the joy of the encounter with the Redeemer. On seeing the Child, Simeon and Anna intuit that it is in fact Him, the One Awaited. (This makes for a good examination of conscience, especially for consecrated virgins. We can ask ourselves: do we long for Him with a depth that would allow us to recognize Him instantly when He comes?)

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is an eloquent icon of the total donation of the life for all those men and women who are called to reproduce in the Church and in the world, through the evangelical counsels, the characteristic features of Jesus “virgin, poor and obedient.” (postsynodal apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata, 1) That is why today’s feast was chosen by the Venerable John Paul II to celebrate the annual Day of Consecrated Life. In this context, I address a cordial and grateful greeting to Archbishop João Bráz de Aviz, whom I recently appointed prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, with the secretary and the collaborators. I greet affectionately the Superiors General present and all consecrated persons.

I would like to propose three brief thoughts for reflection on this feast. The first: the evangelical icon of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple contains the essential symbol of light; the light that, coming from Christ, shines on Mary and Joseph, on Simeon and Anna and, through them, on everyone. The Fathers of the Church linked this radiation to the spiritual journey. Consecrated life expresses this journey, in a special way as “philocalia,” love of divine beauty, reflection of the goodness of God (cf. Vita Consecrata, 19). Resplendent on Christ’s face is this beauty. “The Church contemplates the transfigured face of Christ, to be confirmed in the faith and not risk dismay before his disfigured face on the Cross ... she is the Bride before her Spouse, sharing his mystery, enveloped by his light, [from which] are gathered all his children ... But a singular experience of the light that emanates from the Word incarnate are certainly those called to the consecrated life. In fact, the profession of the evangelical counsels places them as sign and prophecy for the community of brothers and for the world.” (Vita Consecrata, 15)

In the second place, the evangelical icon manifests the prophecy, gift of the Holy Spirit. Simeon and Anna, contemplating the Child Jesus, perceive his destiny of death and resurrection for the salvation of all peoples and proclaim this mystery as universal salvation. Consecrated life is called to this prophetic witness, linked to its twofold attitude, contemplative and active. Given to consecrated men and women, in fact, is to manifest the primacy of God, passion for the Gospel practiced as a way of life and proclaimed to the poor and to the last of the earth. “In the strength of such primacy nothing can be preferred to personal love for Christ and for the poor in which He lives. True prophecy is born from God, from friendship with Him, from attentive listening to his Word in the different circumstances of history” (Vita Consecrata, 84). In this way consecrated life, in its daily living on the paths of humanity, manifests the Gospel and the Kingdom already present and operative.

In the third place, the evangelical icon of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple manifests the wisdom of Simeon and Anna, the wisdom of a life dedicated totally to the search of the face of God, of his signs, of his will; a life dedicated to listening and to proclaiming his Word.

‘Faciem tuam, Domine, requiram’: thy face, O Lord, do I seek.” (Psalm 27:8) Hence, the consecrated person witnesses the joyful and laborious commitment, the assiduous and wise search of the divine will.” (cf. Congress for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, Instruction the Service of Authority and Obedience. [2008], 1)

Dear brothers and sisters, be assiduous listeners of the Word, because every wisdom of life is born of the Word of the Lord! Be scrutinizers of the Word, through Lectio Divina, because consecrated life “is born from listening to the Word of God and accepting the Gospel as its norm of life. To live following the chaste, poor and obedient Christ is in this way a living ‘exegesis’ of the Word of God. The Holy Spirit, in the strength of which the Bible was written, is the same who illumines the Word of God to men and women founders with new light. From it flows every charism and every rule is an expression of it, giving origin to itineraries of Christian life marked by evangelical radicalism.” (postsynodal apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini, 83)

Today we live above all in the most developed societies, a condition often marked by a radical pluralism, by the progressive marginalization of religion from the public sphere, by a relativism that touches fundamental values. This calls for our Christian witness to be luminous and consistent and for our educational effort to be ever more attentive and generous. In particular your apostolic action, dear brothers and sisters, must become a life commitment, which accedes with persevering passion, to wisdom as truth and beauty “splendor of the truth.” Be able to orient your life with wisdom, and with trust in the inexhaustible possibilities of true education, and the intelligence and the heart of men and women of our time to the “good life of the Gospel.”

At this moment, my thought goes with special affection to all consecrated men and women, in every part of the earth, and I entrust them to the Blessed Virgin Mary:

O Mary, Mother of the Church,
I entrust to you consecrated life,
So that you will obtain for it the fullness of divine light:
That it may live in listening to the Word of God,
In the humility of the following of Jesus your Son and our Lord,
In the acceptance of the visit of the Holy Spirit,
In the daily joy of the Magnificat,
So that the Church is built by the holiness of life
Of these your sons and daughters,
In the commandment of love. Amen.