Freeing ourselves for love

In his "Apostolic Letter to All Consecrated People," Pope Francis cuts to the quick about the only acceptable way to respond to the Good News: "The Gospel is demanding: it demands to be lived radically and sincerely. It is not enough to read it (even though the reading and study of Scripture is essential), nor is it enough to meditate on it (which we do joyfully each day). Jesus asks us to practice it, to put His words into effect in our lives" (cf. Pope Francis, "Apostolic Letter to All Consecrated People on the Occasion of the Year of Consecrated Life," I. No.2, Nov. 21, 2014). It is the witness of so many consecrated men and women religious, who live the Gospel so radically and sincerely, that we celebrate in this Year of Consecrated Life that will conclude on Feb. 2, 2016. I am so grateful for such communities of men and women that enrich our own diocese and for the many young people who are in formation.

A lay person might ask: If we are supposed to bring Christ into the world, to be salt and light in our homes, workplaces and neighborhoods, what merit is there in turning our attention to those who have been consecrated, or "set apart," from the world? Why put the spotlight on those whose lives of poverty, chastity and obedience are so profoundly counter-cultural? In his letter, Pope Francis offers us an answer: "Where there are religious, there is joy (cf. ibid., II, No. 1)" It is because the lives of religious are so compelling and attractive that those who are in the world are drawn to seek the source of the joy that they are experiencing. Their happiness is attractive. It's that easy. And the source of their happiness comes from two things: the radical way in which they live out their vows and their life in community.

A life of poverty, chastity and obedience - to many, such a life might seem untenable, even unthinkable! These three virtues, known as evangelical counsels, are juxtaposed against the very basic human desires for money, sex and power. Jesus knows all too well how the Enemy can allure us into a disordered attachment to these three things. We hear Him repeatedly caution us in the Gospels: "No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Mt 6:24); "But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt 5:28); "Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me" (Jn 14:21).

For consecrated men and women, overcoming temptation comes about by radical abandonment. They choose to live lives of simplicity and share their goods in common with the community. They forego marriage and children (and therefore sexual intimacy), so to be free to pray for and/or serve the needs of the Church. They promise obedience to superiors, so that they can be sent where they are needed. The beautiful paradox is that by giving up so much, they gain even more. "And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life" (Mt 19:29).

So, how can all Christians, even lay men and women, live radical, sincere lives as a response to the good news of salvation? My dear brothers and sisters, I suggest that all of us - clergy, married, and single alike - put forth a vigorous effort to join our consecrated brothers and sisters in living out the evangelical counsels in our state of life. We live in a culture in which nearly every commercial, billboard or advertisement is saturated with the allure of money, sex, or power - and sometimes a combination of all three.

To live the Christian life today demands a radical commitment like never before. May I suggest a commitment to intentional simplicity this year. Perhaps you and your family will consider purchasing less of what you want, and more of the things that you truly need. In order to protect yourself and your children from sexual impurity, carefully consider your media consumption and what images and narratives you want to shape your imagination. Lastly, take to prayer the ways in which the Lord might be asking you to renounce your own will and to submit to another's, to His.

If we all commit to a renewed zeal for the Gospel during this Year of Consecrated Life, I am certain that when we celebrate its close next February, we will experience the peace of Christ as never before. And what a joy it will be to see our diocese on fire with the Gospel, free to love as Christ does!

Follow Bishop Loverde on Twitter @Bishop_Loverde.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015