Ask someone what day it is today and the response you are likely to get is “Groundhog Day.” Unless you ask a pagan Celt, who will know that it is the festival of Imbolc. And Catholics? The catechized ones will likely tell you that it is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord or Candlemas.
Few people will tell you that it is World Day for Consecrated Life. But it is—unless you are in one of those dioceses that move the celebration to the following Sunday, an unfortunate practice which is a matter for another post.
When Venerable John Paul II established February 2 as the World Day for Consecrated Life back in 1997, he said that the purpose of the day was threefold: First, to thank God for the gift of consecrated life. Second, “to promote a knowledge of and esteem for the consecrated life by the entire People of God.” And the third reason, in John Paul II’s words,
regards consecrated persons directly. They are invited to celebrate together solemnly the marvels which the Lord has accomplished in them, to discover by a more illumined faith the rays of divine beauty spread by the Spirit in their way of life, and to acquire a more vivid consciousness of their irreplaceable mission in the Church and in the world.
That phrase about “their irreplaceable mission” got me thinking about a conversation I recently had with an abbess of a Poor Clare monastery. Mother Abbess was telling me how important it was for her community to protect the discipline of enclosure, because once one begins to make small exceptions the Rule, soon the cloister may be lost entirely. Upon remarking how central enclosure is to the charism of the Poor Clares (who make a special fourth vow of enclosure) she remarked that if religious abandon their charism, they forfeit their reason to exist, and soon will cease to exist. The history of—no, perhaps better, the contemporary situation of—religious life bears ample evidence to this fact.
Our blog is called “Whosoever Desires.” We take this title from the first words of the Formula of the Institute of the Society of Jesus. As you can see on the right panel of our blog, the complete first sentence is:
Whosoever desires to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the cross in our Society, which we desire to be designated by the name of Jesus, and to serve the Lord alone and the Church his Spouse, under the Roman pontiff, the vicar of Christ on earth, should, after a vow of perpetual chastity, poverty, and obedience, keep the following in mind.
Now, you might be wondering what “the following” is. The short answer is “a lot.” A better answer is to look at the sentences which immediately follow, which explicitly state the purpose of the Society of Jesus:
He is a member of a Society founded chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defense and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine, by means of public preaching, lectures, and any other ministration whatsoever of the word of God, and further by means of the Spiritual Exercises, the education of children and unlettered persons in Christianity, and the spiritual consolation of Christ’s faithful through hearing confessions and administering the other sacraments. Moreover, he should show himself ready to reconcile the estranged, compassionately assist and serve those who are in prisons or hospitals, and indeed to perform any other works of charity, according to what will seem expedient for the greater glory of God and the common good.
Today religious life is in the most precarious situation in which it has been in at least two hundred years, if not many more hundreds of years. Religious are aging, congregations are vanishing, and Vatican visitations are causing quite a stir. The task of a religious in such tumultuous times is the same as it is in all ages: to live one’s charism. To be sure, living one’s charism is no guarantee that one’s order will perdure: often a charism is needed for a specific task at a specific time and no further. But this much is sure: as my abbess-friend put it so well, if a congregation stops living its charism then it loses its reason to exist and soon will vanish.
Those of us here at Whosoever Desires undertake this enterprise as an expression of our charism. Please pray for our humble efforts. And today let us pray for all religious, that they may live their charism with joy, fervor, and fidelity, thus giving witness, in John Paul II’s words, to “their irreplaceable mission in the Church and in the world,” and most importantly, giving witness to the One in Whom alone their lives make sense.