On 2 February the Catholic Church celebrates the World Day For Consecrated Life. Pope St John Paul instituted this annual observance marking it for the first time in 1997.
It is celebrated in conjunction with the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas Day. This commemorates the presentation of Christ in the Temple forty days after his birth (Luke 2:22 – 39). Candles are blessed on this day, and a lighted candle procession is held to symbolize the light of divine revelation that Christ provides.
It is also a day which provides an opportunity for religious congregations and all the faithful to reflect on their particular charisms, the challenges they face today, and on their contributing contribution to the mission of the Church.
Catholics often use the term ‘religious’ to describe those who have taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. This ‘consecrated life’ is embraced by all those who dedicate themselves to the Lord by making these lifelong vows when they are recognised and accepted by the Church. These vows are also known as the ‘evangelical counsels’.
Every Christian, of course, is dedicated to the Lord, and has promised through baptism to give his or her life to him. Every Christian is called to a life of holiness.
But those who consecrate themselves in this way are responding to a call to live as Christ lived, and to model their lives more directly on his own way of life – poor, chaste, and obedient – making their hearts more free for prayer and service. The consecrated life includes monks and nuns in enclosed communities, religious brothers and sisters in active communities, and also many others who live alone or who live and work ‘in the world’ who have taken the three vows.
Since the early Church, there have been faithful people drawn by the Holy Spirit to follow Jesus Christ with greater freedom: seeking to imitate him by committing themselves to a consecrated way of life. Consecrated means ‘set apart’ and those living a consecrated lifestyle are thought to be set apart from others by Our Lord. A consecrated life is defined as a state of life in the Church lived by believers who wish to follow Jesus Christ in a more exacting way. According to the Code of Canon Law, it is “a stable form of living” wherein the faithful are “totally dedicated to God”. The Code also states that institutes of consecrated life can be either religious or secular.
Forms and expressions of consecrated life vary, depending on the religious community. Examples of consecrated life include monasticism, societies of apostolic life, religious life, secular institutes, consecrated virgins, and hermits.
Put another way, persons commit themselves to giving everything (poverty) and doing anything (obedience) in God’s service, as a loving response to His love for them (chastity).
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, forms of consecrated life include evangelical counsels, eremitic life, consecrated virgins and widows, religious life, secular institutes, and societies of apostolic life.
Consecrated life presents in many shapes and forms depending on what element of the Gospel is pursued by that person. In the words of Cardinal St John Henry Newman, “God has created me to do Him some definite service: he has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.”
The consecrated life is like a tree with many branches.
To be Called
The word “vocation” comes from the Latin “vocare” which means to be called. Each of us are created by God, to love Him, and return to Him in Heaven. The vocation God has created and planned for each of us is a gift, but different from the material gifts we receive on occasions such as our birthday or Christmas. Pope St John Paul has advised us that this gift must be opened through prayer. Only God knows what is inside and He can show us the beautiful surprise therein.
The real freedom and joy in living the consecrated life comes from intimacy with God who sustains those He has chosen. They were not called merely for something but by Someone. Following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, living the values he proposed, growing in likeness to him, relating to others with his unconditional and forgiving love, serving without seeking reward, all make life more genuine, more divine, more worth living and more satisfying from a spiritual as well as a human point of view.
The fruit of the consecrated life is to become more humane, more mature, more contented more at peace wit oneself and others.
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan