By Ann Carey
NOTRE DAME — Scores of men and women who are members of religious orders serving in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend nearly filled the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on May 31 for a Vespers service led by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades.
Vespers, also called Evening Prayer, is part of the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office. Bishop Rhoades invited all men and women in consecrated life to the Vespers service as part of the celebration of 2015 being proclaimed the Year of Consecrated Life by Pope Francis. Laity also were invited to attend.
Bishop Rhoades entered the darkened basilica carrying the Paschal Candle down the center aisle. Once at the front, he and basilica rector, Holy Cross Father Peter Rocca, shared the flame from the candle with the congregation. As the flames gradually were relayed from candle to candle, the faces of hundreds of consecrated persons were illuminated.
The basilica’s community choir led the enthusiastic congregation for the hymns, prayers and psalms of Vespers for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. As Felician Sister Mary Catherine Ryzewicz, an administrator at St. Adalbert School in South Bend, told Today’s Catholic after the service: “It was a very lovely service, very inspiring, especially to see so many participating so wholeheartedly; you could feel the rafters shaking just a little.”
Sister Lois DeLee, who is director of vocations, novices and postulants for the Immaculate Heart of Mary Province of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, was the Scripture reader. Holy Cross Brother Joseph Fox, rector of St. Joseph Chapel on the Holy Cross College campus, read the intercessions.
In his homily, Bishop Rhoades said that ever since Pope Francis designated 2015 as the Year of Consecrated Life, he had wanted to gather in prayer with the consecrated men and women in the diocese. Citing Pope Francis, he noted that “consecrated life is not an isolated or marginal reality in the Church.”
Rather, consecrated life is a deep part of the very life of the Church, he continued, saying that fact is evident in this diocese, which is home to some 800 consecrated men and women of 31 religious institutes. Furthermore, six of those religious institutes have their generalates or provincialates in the diocese.
“The marvelous activity of religious men and women shines forth as instrumental to the growth of the Church in our diocese since its very beginning and even prior to the establishment of the diocese in 1857. The consecrated life has been deeply a part of the life of our diocese and continues to be so today,” Bishop Rhoades said.
The bishop noted that the Vespers service celebrating consecrated life was appropriate on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity because consecrated people have put their lives “at the service of the Most Holy Trinity and the Church” and committed themselves to a radical way of living the Gospel through the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience — known as the evangelical counsels.
He observed that St. Pope John Paul II had taught that the evangelical counsels are a gift of the Holy Trinity, and “the heart of poverty, chastity and obedience is love for the Trinity.”
The fraternal life in community of consecrated people also has a Trinitarian dimension, the bishop continued, for like the early Christians, consecrated persons strive to live in Christ with one heart and soul.
“This too is a witness to the Trinity, the unity, the oneness, of the three Divine Persons,” Bishop Rhoades said, noting that at this contentious time in the world, this model of community is greatly needed.
Bishop Rhoades stressed that “the Church and the world need your witness to Christ, your witness of communion, and your example of holiness.”
He thanked those present and asked them to extend his deep thanks, love and prayers to the ill or elderly religious unable to attend, saying: “I am always conscious of the power of their presence here in our diocese: their prayers and also their sufferings offered up for the Church.”
In his closing remarks, Bishop Rhoades said that in addition to members of religious institutes, the diocese is also home to other forms of consecrated life: hermits and consecrated virgins, who also are important to the life of the Church.
One of the largest contingents in attendance at the Vespers service was that of the brown-robed Franciscan Brothers Minor. Brother Isaac Mary told Today’s Catholic that the brothers have five friaries in the diocese, and they try to attend any communal event the bishop holds for the diocese.
“The Vespers service was beautiful,” he said. “It’s always helpful to be with other consecrated persons to build that bond and that friendship.”
For Holy Cross Father William Wickham, now retired after 30-plus years in ministry, the service was as “a renewal of our commitment to the Church, to helping people and to proclaiming the Word.”
Felician Sister Mary Anthony Kubat, who has a special ministry to the ill and elderly at St. Adalbert/St. Casimir Parish, told Today’s Catholic that “Just feeling that power of the spirit with everybody at once praying together was very nice. There are just two of us in community here in South Bend, and it’s a lot different than praying with such a large group. It was powerful, beautiful.”
Bishop Rhoades had planned the event to make people more aware of “the gift of the presence of consecrated men and women in the Church, contributing to the mission of the Church in a decisive manner,” and to provide “a greater awareness in our culture and in the Church of the value and beauty of the consecrated life.”
For those who witnessed the Vespers service, the conclusion was: mission accomplished.
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