Consecrated religious should ‘wake up the world!’

When most of us think of starting a new year, we think of Jan. 1st. In the life of the Church, we begin a new year with Advent, which began on Sunday, Nov. 30th this year. But this Advent is different than years past because Pope Francis has decided to launch a Year of Consecrated Life at the same time.

This Year of Consecrated Life is dedicated to celebrating the consecrated vocation and to promoting renewal among those who have already answered Christ’s call. On Nov. 21, Pope Francis wrote an apostolic letter to all consecrated people, which can be found at the Vatican website. I encourage you to read the letter. Pope Francis notes, “Consecrated life is a gift to the Church, it is born of the Church, it grows in the Church, and it is entirely directed to the Church.”

As we enter into this year, I ask you to join me in giving thanks for the tens of thousands of consecrated men and women who have given their lives to Christ and his Church. At the same time, I also encourage anyone who is discerning God’s call for their life to ask whether he might be calling you to the consecrated life.

Every Christian is called to radically follow the Lord, to leave everything. Pope Francis posed a question to consecrated persons that is valid for every authentic disciple in his apostolic letter, “… we have to ask ourselves: Is Jesus really our first and only love, as we promised he would be when we professed our vows? Only if he is, will we be empowered to love, in truth and mercy, every person who crosses our path.” I encourage everyone to meditate on this question throughout this year.

Currently, we are blessed to have 28 men’s religious communities and over 30 women’s religious congregations serving in the Archdiocese of Denver. Through their generous love for Christ, the Church in northern Colorado is able to care for the sick, the poor and elderly, to provide education, and to serve in our parishes. The Church and the world at large are also supported by the hidden prayers of those men and women who answer the call to contemplative life.

At a November 2013 meeting with religious superiors, Pope Francis also addressed the question of how to promote renewal within religious life and attract more people to it. Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, he said, “… religious life ought to promote growth in the Church by way of attraction.”

“The witness which can really attract,” Pope Francis said, “is that associated with attitudes that are uncommon: generosity, detachment, sacrifice, self-forgetfulness in order to care for others.”

This way of living “sounds an alarm” for people and shows them that it “is possible to live differently in this world.”
“The Church must be attractive. Wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living!” Pope Francis challenged the superiors.

Doing this requires a renewal of consecrated life, a willingness to seek God and return to the “joy of the moment when Jesus looked at me.” This is something that every believer, no matter their vocation, should do. In a particular way, those called to the consecrated life should let Jesus’ loving gaze nourish and inspire their soul, their prayer, their ministries and their religious communities. The Gospel in its fullness and truth must be at the heart of every community.

When love for Christ and his Church is the foundation of a consecrated person’s life, then it will inevitably lead to the attractive witness of joy.

At a July 2013 meeting with seminarians and novices, Pope Francis described the joy that comes from this encounter with Christ. “In calling you God says to you: ‘You are important to me, I love you, I am counting on you.’ Jesus says this to each one of us! Joy is born from that! The joy of the moment in which Jesus looked at me. Understanding and hearing this is the secret of our joy.”

No matter what God’s vocation is for you, the result of faithfully following him will bring joy to your heart. That does not mean you will be free from suffering, the cross is promised to us by the Lord, but it does mean that you will be sustained by the deep joy of knowing that you are loved by God—a joy that no one can take away from you.

Let us begin this Advent and the Year of Consecrated Life by recognizing the gift of the men and women who have given their lives to Christ, and by listening to Jesus’ personal call to each of us. Then we will be able to encounter Jesus with a deeper joy when we celebrate his birth at Christmas, as he gazes at us with love. This Advent season, may your hearts be filled with courage and strength to respond to the call of the God who is love!

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash