World Day for Consecrated Life:
Remarks at St. John's
Church, Woodstock, NY
In 1997, Pope John Paul II declared that the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, February 2nd would be World Day for Consecrated Life in our Church. Our diocese moved it to a Sunday and that is why I am here. The Vicar for Religious of the diocese asked us to make ourselves available to the local Church to mark this day. I made that offer to Father George who immediately invited me to speak to you.
What do I want to tell you about religious life? I want to tell the elders among you that religious life is alive and well in our time. It just doesn’t look like you remember it. For the younger cadre here I am a visual aide to illustrate a point; that there are sisters, nuns and bothers in our Church and they sometimes look like this. But no matter what they look like, habit or no habit, veil or no veil, they exist, they are working, they serve mightily and they are happy. These are women and men who have made promises to God to live their lives in community, with vows of poverty, obedience and chastity in order to serve their loving God and God’s people. The counties of Ulster and Dutchess alone enjoy the presence and ministry of Dominicans in Glasco who give retreats and have great hermitages, the Benedictines in hospital service, my Redemptoristine community at Mt. St. Alphonsus of the Redemptorists, the Marist Brothers who run a camp and offer youth retreats and spiritual direction, the motherhouse of the Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm in Germantown, Sisters of St. Ursula at Linwood Retreat Center, the Poor Clare contemplatives in Wappinger Falls along with the retreat house of the Franciscan Fiars Minor at Mt. Alvernia, and the Carmelite contemplatives in Beacon.
I personally know religious who are teachers, social workers, spiritual directors, Hospice chaplains, lawyers, counselors. I know some who minister to migrant workers, maintain soup kitchens and food pantries, work with the deaf, serve on the boards of community service organizations, reach out via the Internet and other media, and many whose lives are given to the apostolic work of prayer for a needy world, its diverse nations and peoples and all of God’s creation.
Today we heard the words of the prophet Isaiah:
Share your bread with the hungry,
Shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothe the naked when you see them,
And do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn……
We also heard Jesus declare that we “are the salt of the earth”; that we are to be “the light of the world”. Surely the religious in our Church have heard these words and acted upon them, “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
Not only are religious present and active in our Church and happily fulfilled in their vocation. They are also filled with hope, as you should be, for the future of religious life. I assure you this manifestation of the search of the human heart for the Power that is beyond us will not disappear. The sciences of anthropology and sociology tell us that this impulse to live a life more closely united with the transcendent is as old as humankind. It is present in all cultures and societies; appearing as the native American shaman, the Buddhist monk or nun, the tribal medicine man, the Moslem Sufi, as well as Catholic Trappist or Sister of Charity. The impulse is sure to appear. It may even bob up to the surface in your family or among your friends. Please do your best, if you are given the opportunity, to encourage and guide this impulse.
Last year I spoke to a group of parents and asked them. “What would you fear if your child wanted to pursue a religious vocation? They said they would worry about their child being happy; would be concerned about what their son or daughter would have to give up and the promises they would have to make. Who of us has not had some unhappiness? Who of us has not had to give up things in life? Who of us has not had to make and keep promises? These are realities of life. Most of us look back at all of that and still remember what was good, loving and joyful. And we say, “I wouldn’t have had it any other way.” The promises made in religious life mirror all of our promises, every promise represented here; fidelity in marriage and relationship, dedication to nurturing children, the promises of the sacrament of ordination, perseverance in religious vows, faithfulness in honoring the true self, the mundane obligations of earning a living, or the duties of citizenship and service. We are all in this life of following Christ together but we do it in a blessed and wonderful variety of ways.
I say these things to you as someone who, in another life, was a professional, a wife and a mother; someone who paid taxes, worried about the kids, fretted over politics; someone who seriously followed the spiritual life, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing badly. But God called me to the contemplative life of prayer and service in a monastic community. My life is not better than yours, it is just different. It is a life fulfilled in being committed to the Redemptoristine charism, our spirituality, which is to be a “living memory” of Jesus Christ for the Church and the world. We would welcome you to our monastery for private prayer, participation in the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours, and Mass. We also welcome field trips by parish committees, groups or classes. Contact information is available at the exits should you wish to learn more or want to send us a prayer request.
Please remember that religious life is alive and well. It is a happy option for Christian living. But most of all remember that we are in this together; together searching for God; together loving and praising our God and serving God in serving each other. You are the salt of the earth and a light for the world.