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Religious life means not to seek self but to seek God

Archbishop Wenski's homily at final profession of six Servants of the Pierced Hearts

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily during a Mass where six women religious professed final vows as Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary. The Mass was celebrated Feb. 11, 2024, in St. Mary Cathedral

We see here before us six young women who after a long discernment – their own and that of their superiors – come before the Lord today to profess final vows as Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary. 

Thank you for your generous response to the Lord’s call to consecrated life. Sisters Mary Rachel, Monica Bernadette, Brittany Rose, Molly Joyce, Clare Marie and Alexia Maria, as consecrated religious sisters, you seek to magnify the “characteristic features of Jesus, the chaste, poor, obedient one” and make them through your lives constantly visible in the midst of the world.

We welcome your families and friends who gather today with the Servants and Missionaries to witness your profession of final vows through which you will definitively and irrevocably give yourselves entirely to Jesus, vowing poverty, chastity, and obedience – plus a fourth vow distinctive of this religious congregation, that of total Marian availability.

Our first reading taken from the Song of Songs, is a powerful ode to love and speaks to the relationship Christ desires to have with his people. “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal on your arm.” These words of the young bride to her beloved are also the words of the Church, spoken to Christ as she walks along with him. She desires to have a fixed abiding place in his heart, to continue firmly in his love, to be always remembered and supported by him, to be ever on his mind, and constantly under his care and protection, to have full assurance of interest in his love, and in his power, which is the sealing work of his Spirit.

This is a beautiful portrait of the consecrated life. For, consecrated life is a witness of the search for God. Religious life is not about the seeking of self but rather the seeking of God. The only reason for this choice in life is to seek to know his will, to build a community of brothers and sisters in which God is sought after and loved before all else.

And so, the vowed religious give us, members of Christ’s faithful, a unique witness to the implication of our own baptismal call to holiness – for we all are called equally to follow Christ, to discover in him the ultimate meaning of our existence. Sisters, 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.

In the world, we see people who are concerned with their own autonomy, people jealous of their freedom, people fearful of losing their independence. Secular American culture puts the self and self-fulfillment at the center of life. That emphasis, already ubiquitous by the ‘60s and ‘70s, continues to transform all areas of life – it becomes difficult, for example, to make any argument that doesn’t appeal to the ultimate good of one’s own happiness. In such a world, as religious sisters, 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 fulfillment found not through self-seeking or self-assertion but through self-giving and self-sacrifice.

The world – and too often the faithful – see the vows as simply renunciations. However, they are more than that – for the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, each in its own unique way, is a specific acceptance of the Mystery of Christ lived out within the Church. The vows do not constrain or limit your freedoms; the vows make true freedom possible. Poverty frees you from burdens of possessions; chastity liberates you from slavery to vice, and obedience gives you the freedom to serve. So, to promise to follow what are called the evangelical counsels is in no way a limiting of freedom or a diminishment of one’s life or possibilities; rather the vows that these sisters solemnly make today are what make it possible for them with a Marian availability to cooperate in Christ’s work of redemption.

Mary's life can be summed up with four words found in the Gospels. The first word, taken from the Gospel we have just heard, is “Fiat” — May it be done to me according to your word. This is Mary's “yes” to the proposal God made to her through the Angel Gabriel. 

A second word is “Magnificat” – “my soul magnifies the Lord,” as one translation renders it. “Magnificat” describes then Mary's response to God's grace at work in her life.

Then, a third word, “Conservabat” — Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart; and a final word, “Stabat,” which describes her standing faithfully at the foot of the cross watching her son die for humanity. 

Fiat, Magnificat, Conservabat, Stabat: Mary's life in a nutshell. These words are also descriptive of the vocation of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts. But since Mary’s “Fiat” made her the first disciple or Christian, these words also set forth a pattern for each of us to follow in our own lives. We too are called to say “Yes” to God's plan for our lives, and our response to that plan lived out concretely in our lives should also “magnify the Lord.” We too are to keep the Word alive in our hearts, meditating on the things that God has done for us; and to stand with Christ, especially to stand with him in the poor, the suffering, the persecuted. 

My dear Sisters in Christ, by responding courageously to your vocation – and through many years of formation – you have allowed the Lord to work “on you” and “in you.” May the Lord continue to work “through you” for his greater glory and honor and for the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.