The Year of Consecrated Life and the World Day of Consecrated Life (15-02-1)
Pope Francis proclaimed 2015 a Year of Consecrated Life, starting on the First Sunday of Advent, the weekend of November 29, 2014, and ending on February 2, 2016, the World Day of Consecrated life. The year also marks the 50th anniversary of Perfectae Caritatis, a decree on religious life, and the great constitution Lumen Gentium, both documents of the Second Vatican Council. St. John Paul II instituted the World Day of Consecrated Life to be celebrated each year on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (February 2) in 1997.
“Consecrated life” is a newer term for what most Catholics refer to as “religious life,” namely a public, vowed life in a religious institute. All religious, both women and men, take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience (also referred to as the Evangelical Counsels), but the form of the common life and the apostolate can vary greatly. For example, there are very monastic communities with little to no external apostolate like the Carmelite nuns in Holladay and the Trappist monks in Huntsville to communities which incorporate both, like the Holy Cross Sisters and your own Dominican friars, to completely apostolic orders like the Daughters of Charity and the Jesuits.
Most communities were founded for a particular purpose or with a specific ministry in mind, which informs how the community lives and prays together. Taken together, a community’s work, its manner of living and its practice of prayer form its spirituality. Former Master of the Dominican Order, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, once described each religious order as its own microclimate: everyone will not flourish equally in every community, but when “planted” in the right one, the individual will thrive like nowhere else.
I did not grow up with sisters in my parish and the priests at the parish were Diocesan. My first contact with religious was in high school with the Christian Brothers, founded by St. John Baptiste de la Salle and the Carondelet sisters at our sister school. The Brothers’ life greatly attracted me, except for one thing: teaching. It was clear to me almost at the outset that God was not calling me to be a classroom teacher, which is the whole reason the Christian Brothers were founded! That made me sad. The answer came for me when I met the Dominicans. (The rest, as they say, is history.)
Like any vocation, religious or consecrated life is a way to answer Jesus’ call to holiness to all his followers. Again, like any vocation, it is not for everyone. But for those who are called to it, it is the best way to express love of God and neighbor and work for the Kingdom. The longer I am a religious, the more grateful I am for my own vocation, as well as those countless vocations I don’t have (like parenting or classroom teaching) and how they sanctify those within them and enrich the Church and the world.