|Sr. Muriel (left) and Sr. Kathryn|
celebrating the Day for Consecrated Life 2015
In recent years, we have heard a lot of damaging and painful stories about religious and priests. I know that the failures on the part of these persons have caused many of you great sadness and anger. But today, if you will permit me, I would like to share with you another side to the story. And I hope that maybe, you will also have a glimpse of the beauty of the calling that we religious seek to respond to.
In today’s Gospel, we encounter some wonderful persons who show us the heart of what a life consecrated to God is about. This young couple, Joseph and Mary bring Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord. Upon arrival, they meet a man and a woman – Simeon and Anna.
• They were present in the Temple,
• They were people of prayer and praise,
• They were people who wanted to share something very important - a prophetic message.
So perhaps we could sum up the consecrated life up in three simple words:
• Presence, prayer and prophecy: I will briefly outline these 3 aspects:
Presence: Religious are called to be a particular presence in our world. We desire to be a presence that is welcoming and attractive. Pope Francis (who I am proud to say, is also a religious!) reminds us that the sort of witness that really attracts is associated with attitudes which are often uncommon: attitudes such as generosity, detachment, sacrifice, and self-forgetfulness. Those of you who are mothers and fathers can identify very much with these virtues. Religious are called to be a presence, sometimes a silent one, at other times a noisy one: but a presence which seeks to imitate Jesus – one that is healing and loving.
The second point is that of prayer: We are also called to be a presence of prayer in the world. The 84 year old widow Anna and the elderly Simeon had time to pray, to stay with the Lord. And so they were attuned to recognize God’s beautiful presence in Mary, Joseph and the little child. As a sister, I am often approached by people who say, “Sister, will you please pray for me?” This is great request and also a big responsibility for us to intercede for you. It is also very humbling to receive this request. I always say, “let us pray together for two pray-ers are more powerful than one!” One of our sisters writes down the name of the person and carries it in her pocket … prayer is never time wasted and many of God’s gifts flow more freely when we pray.
Religious are also called to be a prophetic presence… This is a big ask for us and quite challenging! We are called, sister, brother, father … this is not simply a title: but it is a reminder to us and to you, that we are members of the same family. So to be prophetic today is to be a reminder of certain things, things which are not always easy to hear: just as Simeon reminded Mary that her soul will be pierced with sorrow.
Perhaps we are also called to be like an alarm clock! It’s true that religious life is a life of sacrifice. We give up having a person we can claim for our own, we renounce the joys and often the suffering that having children and grandchildren can bring. No religious will be able to say the words that my mum said when dad died 18 years ago, “No one will ever love me as your father did!”
We renounce having our own homes, we seek to live a simple life style, and after some years in a place, we are called to move on. This perhaps is one of the hardest things, when we leave the people we have known, loved and served. This going forward is a reminder that we are a pilgrim people, and earth is not our final home. Our vow of obedience means that we can’t always fulfill our own plans, and we serve wherever there is the need. We commit ourselves to being stretched at times! But in spite of all this, there is something about a joyful
Springtime and freedom in following Jesus so closely. It’s true we often fail; we are never quite as present, prayerful or prophetic as we would like to be. Perhaps it is the same for you too. And the romance? I think I speak on behalf of all my fellow religious: the romance is still very much alive in our hearts even after many years. Perhaps it takes on different hues and colors … the heart never ages when one loves.
Today, I invite you to not lose sight of the distinctive and radical way in which we religious seek to live our baptismal call. And in a special way, today I ask for your prayer for all religious. We want to be faithful, we want to serve you and be witnesses to God’s love. Your fidelity and your encouragement help us to do just this!
Sr. Kathryn Williams pddm