By Sister Margie Lavonis, CSC
NOTRE DAME — Pope Francis has declared Nov. 30, 2014 to Feb. 2, 2016 as a year to celebrate consecrated life. On Feb. 8, 2015, many orders will host open houses with religious throughout the nation. Many Catholics, especially our children, are not even sure what consecrated life is. One of the goals of this year is to educate Catholics about religious life.
I had the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for most of my grade school years and every day we said the Morning Offering and consecrated ourselves to Jesus through Mary. As a child, I am not sure I fully understood what I was doing, but I did know that I offered all I did that day to God. Little did I know that I would later give my whole life to Jesus as a Sister of the Holy Cross.
It seems there is a lack of awareness currently about religious life, especially among the young. Fewer young men and women are answering the call to live a consecrated life as a sister, brother or priest. I think one of the major reasons for this is a lack of understanding of Priesthood and religious life. Worse yet, the possibility of living the Christian call we receive at baptism doesn’t even cross their minds. It is logical to say that a person cannot choose a way of life he or she knows little or nothing about.
What is religious or consecrated life? In my early years I thought being a religious was chiefly about ministry and serving others, but Jesus calls all Christians to serve His people.
Religious life is a call to make Jesus the center of one’s life. It is to consecrate or give one’s whole self to God. It is truly about loving God above all. One important way to show this love is through ministry or service, but that is not what makes one a religious.
Men and women religious consecrate themselves to God by professing the three vows or promises of chastity, poverty and obedience. It is a lifetime commitment.
All Christians are called to be chaste and to respect their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, but religious priests, brothers and sisters vow to give all of themselves, body and soul, to God and to God’s people. This is where the service comes in.
Christians are also called to live the virtue of poverty and to live simply. Those in consecrated life strive to live in radical dependence on God and try not to be weighed down by material goods and other attachments.
The baptized are also called to follow God and obey God’s Word. Consecrated religious strive to do God’s will in conjunction with the mission of their particular community, as a husband and wife give themselves to each other and to their children. Family is their primary focus. Those who commit themselves as religious give their entire lives to Christ and to the Church through the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
I believe God still calls some to this radical and challenging way of life. Let us pray that those to whom God is calling will respond with a generous “yes.”
Let us also do our part to invite the young to consider this option when they are discerning life choices. Sometimes it only takes the question, “Did you ever think God might be calling you to be a priest, brother or sister.”
Your question just might plant the seed of a religious vocation. Just as the Church needs good marriages, it also needs sisters, brothers and priests to extend the reign of God in our world.
During this special year, may people learn more about those who have consecrated their lives to Christ and to His Kingdom and support their ministries in the Church and in the world.
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