World Day for Consecrated Life

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.

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7 Responses to World Day for Consecrated Life

  1. Henry says:

    Thank you for this beautiful post Vincent.

    Pax,

    Henry

  2. Qualis Rex says:

    Hello Vincent. I guess I’m a bit puzzled at your remark “Today religious life is in the most precarious situation in which it has been in at least two hundred years”. It is no secret that traditional orders (for both men and women) are flourishing while other more “well-established” orders which have strayed well beyond the mandates and principles of their founders are withering. And good riddance. An order should only be around if it is relevant and serves a purpose ad majorem Dei gloriam. It should not be kept around like a relic, simply to preserve the historic name.

    Also, your comment “Vatican visitations are causing quite a stir” also has me perplexed. This “stir” is a good thing, as the Vatican visitations are crucial to the preservcation of the faith among religious, as many orders have been hijacked (this is definitely not an exageration) by the whims, personal goals and agendas of very wayward factions and personalities. I know of several orders which have brought scandal to the church at large for their members’ visible and tangible support for abortion, homosexual lifestyle (hyper-sexuality), female ordination, new-age practices/beliefs and overall anti-Catholic teaching (i.e. outright disobedience to the magesterisum). My aunt belongs to such an order, and she is very open about the fact that she no longer identifies as Catholic, and no longer believes in Catholicism, but she still receives the monthly stipend/benefits from her order, who opt to retain her for her organizational skills.

    As I’ve said previously, Catholicism is NOT a numbers game. We need not and SHOULD NOT water down the faith to attract, or in this case retain, members. The Vatican is not asking for much during these visitations. There are too many people who make it seem like “the big bad Vatican is going after these poor nuns!” The reality is there are several orders which continue to exist solely because of current and legacy donations (i.e. land that they continue to sell off) to support their aging members. The word “Catholic” should not be used simply as a marketing ploy.

  3. Jeff Johnson SJ says:

    Qualis,
    I wish the issues regarding the visitation were as clear cut as you indicate (forces of good vs. forces of evil). That would be nice world to live in, but, alas, we live in this world. There have been several thoughtful reflections and reactions to the visitation.

    America Magazine featured this one a few months ago: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=11905. Commonweal also published an article on the matter by Sister X. While, I’m not in favor of using pseudonyms, Sister X aims to capture the thoughts of many nuns in this country. Here is a link to her article: http://commonwealmagazine.org/cross-examination.

    These two articles demonstrate that the issues are much more complex than merely determining who is or is not faithful to Rome.

    As for your comment about Catholicism not being a numbers game, I would beg to differ. It’s not a game; I’ll grant you that. Although, a little more playfulness might not be a bad thing. However, it is all about the numbers.

    According to 1 Timothy 2:4, God desires everyone to be saved. ‘Everyone’ amounts to a big number, and, moreover, God usually gets what God wants. God is, figuratively, beating the bushes and scouring the byways to find people to fill his house with as many who will accept the invitation.

    Of course God’s universal salvific will always runs up against the darker inclinations of human freedom. We humans have a radical freedom, a freedom respected by God and unrestricted in its capacity to reject God. However, an encounter with the God who is Love strengthens and inspires us to use our freedom to help God rustle up as great a number as possible for God’s kingdom. If there is anything that shouldn’t be watered down, then it’s the fire burning in our hearts after an encounter with the love of God manifest in Jesus.

    Jeff

    • Qualis Rex says:

      Jeff – since my last reply to you on the CITR thread got deleted/censored, I’ll give this one last try. I read the articles you posted, but they do not prove the issues are “much more complex” than the Vatican simply gauging the level of Catholicism in each order. The articles were filled with personal annecdote, opinion and speculation. Nowhere did it quote from any document as to the mandate or measurements used during the visits, nor to the consequences of them. What I did get from both articles was a very slanted, fear-mongering toll of woe from a people who feel (operative word) that they should simply be left alone to define what they view is the best way to live their life, and bitter that the Vatican hasn’t “come around” to their way of thinking. The telling passages are: “Meanwhile, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious continued in the spirit of Vatican II (*who gets to define this spirit?) to be open to the world, exploring avenues of liberation theology, feminist theology and the plight of the poor, among others….Rome has thrown its weight on the side of C.M.S.W.R., giving its members top ecclesiastical positions.” So, to be clear, this writer is lammenting the fact that Rome is giving trusted positions of authority to those who follow orthodox church teachings. Scarey!!!

      Then, there was “The former (traditional) sees religious life as divine espousal with Christ; the latter (modernist) sees Christ in solidarity with the poor and justice for the oppressed.” Tripe. Most orders, regardless of their leanings take a strict vow of poverty. Every nun in my aunt’s order has taken this same vow of poverty– and get $1800 a month in living expenses if they opt to have their own appartment (most do, until they need assisted care), full medical/dental, a car etc. Contrast this with poverty of the cloistered Carmelites or the VERY socially active (yet traditional…surprise!) Missionaries of Charity and tell me who identifies more with the poor and oppressed. If you do not see the hypocrisy here, then I’m seriously at a loss.

      As for my numbers game comment, I stand by it. I’ll counter your biblical quote with one of my own (cuz I can do that) coming straight from God, Himself: Matthew 7:14 “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads unto life, and few there be that find it.” Of course we should reach out, live the gospel and try to bring as many to God as it is possible for us. But ultimately, our salvation is only between each of us individually and God. As such, it is not a numbers game; 1 real practicing/struggling Catholic is not the same as 1 million nominally unpracticing “Catholics”. Not by a longshot.

  4. Johnny says:

    Great message buddy. Happy World Day for Consecrated Life! You and the Society are a blessing to the world. Peace…

  5. Fr. Philip Shano, S.J. says:

    Vincent,

    Many thanks for this reflection. I may not offer many comments, but I am a frequent visitor to Whosoever Desires. I return to the site for a few reasons: the opinions, the questions, the writing style, the serious reflection, the challenges. Thank you to all of you, and thank you, Vincent, for making us think about Consecrated Life and its place in the world. When you have time, please offer more of your reflections on Consecrated Life and its situation in the 21st century. A statement from Benedict XVI has not been quoted enough in my opinion – his reflection at the Shrine of Mariazell on September 8, 2007. It was titled “A Reflection on the Evangelical Counsels.” He speaks quite beautifully and strongly of the significance of the vows and religious life.

    • Qualis Rex says:

      Fr Maziell thanks for that reference. I LOVE it when our blessed Pope Benedict (May God grant him 100 years!) is quoted…especially by priests! : ) Not only is he the best Pope the church has had since Vatican II, Pope Benedict is truly one of the highest theological and biblical scholars of our age. It’s a shame many people don’t give him credit for this. Thanks to his efforts, I truly believe we will see a resurgence of holy orders and vocations.

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