Gratitude, enthusiasm, hope: Living the consecrated life

This annual celebration of the Sisters' Jubilee is always a gathering filled with joy, thanksgiving, pride, fervent prayer and hope. As we gather this year, there is an added joy and significance. Why? Because we are celebrating these significant anniversaries within the Year of Consecrated Life, which began on November 30, 2014, and will conclude on February 2, 2016.

As we gather today, I invite us together to reflect on the three goals of this Year of Consecrated Life, applying them more specifically to our four jubilarians and their living of the consecrated life: sixty years for Sister Helen Dolores Gilroy and Sister Jackie Murphy, fifty years for Sister Cecilia Dwyer and Sister Elizabeth Ann Goltman and seventy years for Sister Irene Cody, such a treasured member of our diocese who is now living in Tarrytown, New York.

The first of the three goals proposed by Pope Francis, who himself tells us that he is echoing the three goals outlined by Saint John Paul II, is "to look to the past with gratitude." (cf. Apostolic Letter, II. No. 1). Surely, dear sister jubilarians, you look to the past with grateful hearts. We join you in thanking God for the call He gave each one of you, the call rooted in His deep love of you, as Pope Francis states, "to follow Christ more closely, to translate the Gospel into a particular way of life, to read the signs of the times with the eyes of faith and to respond creatively to the needs of the Church" (cf. Ibid.) and to do this as a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia, or of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, or of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. We thank each one of you jubilarians for saying "yes" to the Lord's call.

No doubt, coupled with gratitude is the experience of inner joy - not only joy this day as we rejoice with you and congratulate you, but that joy that is rooted in the Lord Jesus, Who called you, as He said in today's Gospel account, so that you may share His joy completely - the joy of His abiding faithful love for you over the ups and downs of your individual experience of living the consecrated life.

Pope Francis speaks of this joy. Pointing to his expectations "from this Year of grace for consecrated life" (cf. Ibid, II), he states: "That the old saying will always be true: 'Where there are religious, there is joy.' We are called to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness; that we need not seek our happiness elsewhere; that the authentic fraternity found in our communities increases our joy; and that our total self-giving in service to the Church, to families and young people, to the elderly and the poor, brings us life-long personal fulfilment. Like everyone else, we have our troubles, our dark nights of the soul, our disappointments and infirmities, our experience of slowing down as we grow older. But in all these things we should be able to discover 'perfect joy.' For it is here that we learn to recognize the face of Christ, who became like us in all things, and to rejoice in the knowledge that we are being conformed to Him who, out of love of us, did not refuse the sufferings of the cross." (cf. Ibid, II, No.1). So, then, gratitude and joy!

The second goal of the Year of Consecrated life is "to live the present with passion." In today's Gospel account, Jesus tells all of us, and, in a special way, you, dear sister jubilarians, that He asks the Father, "to keep (us) in (His) name," because He Himself protects and guards us as those He has chosen to be close to Him in a deeply personal and spousal relationship. In fact, He prays that just as He belongs to His Father in an intimate manner, so each one of us will likewise live in an intimate union with Him, and through Him, with God our Father, and also with one another. "To live the present with passion" is rendered tangible and real as we open our hearts to allow Jesus to be "our Beloved." Pope Francis asks us, especially as we seek to live the consecrated life. "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 in mercy, every person who crosses our path. For we will have learned from Jesus the meaning and practice of love. We will be able to love because we have His own heart" (cf. Ibid. I, No. 2). So, Jesus is urging us all: "Passionately keep drawing closer to Me because I love you!"

The third goal of the Year of Consecrated Life is "to embrace the future with hope" (cf. Ibid, I, No.3). As the Holy Father states: "We all know the difficulties which the various forms of consecrated life are currently experiencing: decreasing vocations and aging members, particularly in the Western world; economic problems stemming from the global financial crisis; issues of internationalization and globalization; the threats posed by relativism and a sense of isolation and social irrelevance … But it is precisely amid these uncertainties, which we share with so many of our contemporaries, that we are called to practice the virtue of hope, the fruit of our faith in the Lord of history, who continues to tell us: 'Be not afraid … for I am with you' (Jer 1:8). This hope is not based on statistics or accomplishments, but on the One in whom we have put our trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:2), the One for whom 'nothing is impossible' (Lk 1:37). This is the hope which does not disappoint; it is the hope which enables consecrated life to keep writing its great history well into the future. It is to that future that we must always look, conscious that the Holy Spirit spurs us on so that He can still do great things with us," (cf. Ibid).

Dear jubilarians, hold on to Jesus. He is interceding for you as indeed He is for all of us. The prayer He began at the Last Supper, part of which we heard in today's Gospel account, has not ceased; it will continue to the end of time. Your lives as consecrated religious these seventy or sixty or fifty years have not been in vain. The Lord has worked through you in so many ways, some of which you can identify, but most of which lies hidden from your view until you reach the eternal dwelling to which we are all on pilgrimage. The seeds you have sown will bear fruit. So, continue to live as the first reading reminds us all to live: devoting ourselves to the teaching of the Apostles - to God's Word; to the communal life as you experience that within your particular religious community; to the breaking of the bread - the Eucharistic Sacrifice daily; and to the prayers - both as individuals and in community. Live in hope, the hope which, in fact, is a Person, the Lord Jesus, the only source of enduring hope!

Yes, dear Jubilarians, look to the past with gratitude and joy, live the present with passion for the Lord Jesus and those He entrusts to you, and embrace the future with hope. Indeed, each one of us gathered here must do this.

I am convinced that if we together hold on with grateful hearts, seek ever-deepening union with the Lord Jesus, and embrace the unknown future with hope, we will be witnesses to the kind of consecrated life that will attract others to follow Jesus closely as we seek to do, and, ultimately, in God's Providence, cause the consecrated life, this truly precious gift to the Church, to flourish. I conclude, echoing words from Pope Francis, which, he tells us, he cites from Pope Benedict XVI. "'It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but by attraction' (No. 14). The consecrated life will not flourish as a result of brilliant vocation programs, but because the young people we meet find us attractive, because they see us as men and women who are happy! Similarly, the apostolic effectiveness of consecrated life does not depend on the efficiency of its methods. It depends on the eloquence of your lives, lives which radiate the joy and beauty of living the Gospel and following Christ to the full," (cf. Ibid).

Sister Jubilarians, congratulations! We hold you with prayer in our hearts today - and always!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015