In the Apostolic Letter from November 21, 2014 to all consecrated people, Pope Francis pointed out the AIMS, the EXPECTATIONS and the HORIZONS of the Year of Consecrated Life, launched on the First Sunday of Advent. This month let us reflect on the expectations mentioned in the papal message, seen from the vocational perspective of the spiritual daughters of St Vincent and Saint Louise.
#1 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.
My heart is still overflowing with joy on account of the understanding which, I believe, our good God has given me of the words, “God is my God.” (St. Louise, L.369)
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.
#2 I am counting on you “to wake up the world”, since the distinctive sign of consecrated life is prophecy. As I told the Superiors General: “Radical evangelical living is not only for religious: it is demanded of everyone. But religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way.” This is the priority that is needed right now: “to be prophets who witness to how Jesus lived on this earth… a religious must never abandon prophecy”.
“The Daughters of Charity are constantly solicitous for the development of every person in all the aspects of their being. That is why they are alert to ways of helping their brothers and sisters to become conscious of their own dignity and agents of their own promotion. They plead the cause of the underprivileged, who do not have the possibility of making their legitimate demands and aspirations heard.” (C. 24e)
Prophets receive from God the ability to scrutinize the times in which they live and to interpret events: they are like sentinels who keep watch in the night and sense the coming of the dawn (cf. Is 21:11-12). Prophets know God and they know the men and women who are their brothers and sisters. They are able to discern and denounce the evil of sin and injustice. Because they are free, they are beholden to no one but God, and they have no interest other than God. Prophets tend to be on the side of the poor and the powerless, for they know that God himself is on their side.
“I must not judge a poor peasant man or woman by their appearance or their apparent intelligence… But turn the medal, and you will see by the light of faith that the Son of God, who willed to be poor, is represented to us by these poor people… How beautiful it is to see poor people if we consider them in God and with the esteem in which Jesus Christ held them! (St. Vincent, XI, 19)
#3. Men and women religious, like all other consecrated persons, have been called, as I mentioned, “experts in communion”. So I am hoping that the “spirituality of communion”, so emphasized by Saint John Paul II, will become a reality and that you will be in the forefront of responding to “the great challenge facing us” in this new millennium: “to make the Church the home and the school of communion.” I am sure that in this Year you will make every effort to make the ideal of fraternity pursued by your founders and foundresses expand everywhere, like concentric circles.
Communion is lived first and foremost within the respective communities of each Institute.
It seemed to me that in order to be faithful to God we must live in great union with one· another. Since the Holy Spirit is the union of the Father and the Son, the life which we have freely undertaken must be lived in this great union of hearts. (St. Louise, A.75)
I also hope for a growth in communion between the members of different Institutes.
Consecrated men and women are also called to true synergy with all other vocations in the Church, beginning with priests and the lay faithful, in order to “spread the spirituality of communion, first of all in their internal life and then in the ecclesial community, and even beyond its boundaries”.
While respecting the situation of the individual, they take up the cause of those who are poor and collaborate, according to the directives of the Church, with those who are working to defend their rights. (C. 24e)
They collaborate with all those actively engaged in the pastoral plan of the area and do all they can to promote lay leadership. (S. 9b)
#4 I also expect from you what I have asked all the members of the Church: to come out of yourselves and go forth to the existential peripheries. “Go into all the world”…
Don’t be closed in on yourselves, don’t be stifled by petty squabbles, don’t remain a hostage to your own problems. These will be resolved if you go forth and help others to resolve their own problems, and proclaim the Good News. You will find life by giving life, hope by giving hope, love by giving love.
You have a vocation which obliges you to help, without any discrimination, all sorts of persons: men, women, children, and, in general, every poor person who needs you. (St. Vincent, Jan 6, 1658)
#5 I expect that each form of consecrated life will question what it is that God and people today are asking of them.
[…]during this Year no one can feel excused from seriously examining his or her presence in the Church’s life and from responding to the new demands constantly being made on us, to the cry of the poor.
You must be ready to serve those who are poor wherever you are sent:…generally speaking, wherever you can assist poor persons, since that is your purpose. (St. Vincent, Oct 18, 1655)
Only by such concern for the needs of the world, and by docility to the promptings of the Spirit, will this Year of Consecrated Life become an authentic kairos, a time rich in God’s grace, a time of transformation.