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World Day of Consecrated Life

Homily delivered by Archbishop Thomas Wenski at the Mass celebrated for World Day of Consecrated Life at the Cathedral of St. Mary on Sunday, February 13, 2011.

Today we, as an Archdiocesan Community, we celebrate the World Day of Consecrated Life. This day is observed in Rome on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, February 2nd.

Today, of course, we also honor those celebrating 70 years, 50 years and 25 years of religious life. The dedication, commitment and achievements of all men and women religious are well represented by these jubliarians.

There is a Chinese wish – although some have called it the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” The times in which our jubilarians have lived their religious commitment, in this Post-Conciliar era, have certainly been interesting times – and they have also been challenging times. And, you jubilarians, certainly did not live in a bubble that protected you from those many challenges. Yet, you are here today – thanks to your perseverance, and your commitment and fidelity to the charisms of your communities

In John Paul II’s Vita Consecrata, an apostolic exhortation delivered after the Synod on Consecrated Life in 1995, he describes religious life as an “Icon of the Transfigured Christ” - for the vowed life does proclaim and anticipate the future age when we will experience the fullness of the Kingdom.

In this way, vowed religious are witnesses to hope. Your lives testify to the fact that God matters – and today when so much of society wishes to live as if he did not matter, it is not surprising that your embrace of your vocation is viewed by many with skepticism if not ridicule. The religious life is not about the seeking of self but rather the seeking of God and as such it will always be a “sign of contradiction” that challenges – and must always challenge the assumptions of those who do not take God in account.

Through you and your witness, the evangelical counsels – “characteristic features of Jesus, the chaste, poor, obedient one, are made constantly visible in the midst of the world. You are vowed to live the evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity and obedience which the world – and too often the faithful – see as simply renunciations. However, they are more than that – for each counsel in its own unique way is a specific acceptance of the Mystery of Christ lived within the Church.

Today’s gospel is taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus places before us, one could say, the demands of discipleship – just as Moses once placed before the Hebrews the Ten Commandments. In these demands of discipleship Jesus fulfills the purpose originally intended by the Old Testament laws.

For too many of us, the commandments seem to be impositions, limitations on our freedom. The demands of discipleship are seen as merely burdens to be put up with. Yet, the reality is that obeying the commandments does not take away our freedom. Obeying the commandments makes freedom possible. Being a Christian is not a burden that weighs us down but a gift that lifts us up to true joy and blessedness. Obeying the commandments does not take away our freedom. Obeying the commandments makes freedom possible. They point the way for us of how to mirror in our own lives the love of God.

In the Psalm, we sang: “Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.” In other words, following the commandments – which Jesus did not abolished but rather brought to perfection – is the way to happiness.

Your consecrated life is a gift to the Church that makes manifest the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse. If the renewal envisioned for the entire Church by the Council is to occur it will be, in great measure, thanks to the renewal of religious life. For, as vowed religious you give the entire Christian community a unique witness to the implication of our own baptismal call to holiness.

For that to happen we need to re-propose the high standard of ordinary Christian living to all the faithful. As I said, for too many of us, our Catholic faith is about impositions, limitations to our freedom. The demands of discipleship are seen as merely burdens to be put up with. And that’s a terrible way to look at the treasure which is our Catholic faith. And, indeed, a Catholic faith seen as just a collection of do’s and don’ts that we selectively chose to follow or not will fail to convert others must less ourselves. As Pope John Paul II reminded us – if we are all called to holiness by virtue of our baptism (and we are), it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity marked by a minimalist ethic and a sentimental religiosity.

In the world, we see people who are concerned with their own autonomy, people jealous of their freedom, people fearful of losing their independence. In such a world, as religious, you are – and you must be – signs of contradiction. Your existence – in the world but not of the world – points to the possibility of a different way of fulfillment of one’s life, “a way where God is the goal, his Word the light, and his will the guide, where consecrated persons move along peacefully in the certainty of being sustained by the hands of a Father who welcomes and provides, where they are accompanied by brothers and sisters, moved by the same Spirit, who wants to and knows how to satisfy the desires and longings sown by the Father in the heart of each one.”

“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.” To our jubilarians, we say “congratulations” – and “thank you.” In your following the law of the Lord according to the evangelical counsels, you have shown us that to be a Christian is not a burden – but a gift, a gift that you have shared with joy and fidelity with all of us.

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