Pope Francis has decreed that this current year is a Year of Consecrated Life! Among the hundreds of young people I confirmed this spring, only a very few understood what this “consecrated life” really is.
I explain to them that consecrated life is a sign of good things to come in human civilization. It is willing to come to grips with provisional certainties, with new situations and challenges as they develop, with the clamorous demands and passions of contemporary humanity.
Religious communities living out their charism founded most of our Catholic hospitals, schools, universities, nursing homes and many other charitable institutions. With the aging of these communities and the lack of vocations, many communities have closed their ministries. Let me share some thoughts on my vocation to the Benedictine monastic life.
First, take a moment and remember a time when you experienced a shift in your life. In the midst of living an ordinary day, an insight from deep within arose and you began to “see” in a new way. You saw an answer to a question you had been carrying — or clarity came that focused your energies, maybe even redirected your choices and activities. Or an encounter with a person, with others, which changed you, opening possibilities beyond what you imagined. This shift might even have been life changing! If so, it also became life challenging with consequences you never imagined. Remember what has carried you through it all.
The men and women in the scriptures, ordinary people like us, also experienced life-changing moments. Samuel, a young man living his culture and tradition, seeking to discover his way into the future was jostled by a “call,” an inner experience only he could describe. His life was changed and challenged as he gradually took his place in the service of his people.
Mary, a young woman about to be engaged to a man named Joseph, had an experience which changed her life. Mary had an encounter that changed her forever. She was dumbfounded, she questioned — how can this be? — and then she received assurance. Yes, God was doing something new. Go visit your cousin Elizabeth. She too has been changed. Together, they grew into the truth of those life-changing moments. We know well the challenges both women faced as their sons, John the Baptist and Jesus, discovered on their life path.
Those of us who have accepted God’s invitation to consecrated life have lived many consequences of our decisions to belong to the people. In the midst of constant cultural change, we came and we have stayed. So what sustained us on the journey?
If I were to share an image that has helped sustain me on the way, listen to some of the wisdom about what I am called to live: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18).
I also offer wisdom about what keeps me going: “I know the One in whom I have believed, and I am certain He is able to guard all that has been entrusted to me” (2 Tim 1:12).
Finally, there is some wisdom about my longing for tomorrow: “Behold, I am doing something new. Can you not see it springing forth in your midst?” (Isa 43:19)
My deep gladness, my family relationships, bonds of friendship in community and ministry formed over many years; times of solitude and prayer helped sustain me and my creative activity in the world.
I trust that whatever I have lived will be a small contribution to the future when the vision of the Earth Charter, the international declaration signed in 2000, will become reality as the human family grows into “the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.”
My face and my body have changed through the years. My heart has been purified and refined by circumstances and continues to be tended to by our God who is Wild Abundance! I will always belong to the people I serve.
In this year that the Holy Father has dedicated for consecrated life, my heart is filled with gratitude and openness. I pray that my life and the lives of all in consecrated life witness our thanks for all that has been — and our “yes” for all that will be.
BISHOP ROGER GRIES, OSB, is a retired auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Cleveland. He serves as the chaplain of Legatus’ Cleveland Chapter.