Reflections on Consecrated Life
Derry Murphy, SAC
President, Union of Catholic Apostolate
All That We Are Comes From God
The words of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, at the conclusion of his Homily at Vespers on 2 February, the World Day of Consecrated Life, are uplifting: "Lastly, dear friends, let us raise to the Lord a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for consecrated life itself. If it did not exist, how much poorer the world would be!". And how much poorer would be the lives of all of us who, in one manner or another, live a consecrated life in the Church of Jesus Christ and in the world!
In his Homily Pope Benedict emphasized three objectives for the celebration of this Day of Consecrated Life, namely: to give praise and thanks to God for the gift of consecrated life; to foster awareness and appreciation of consecrated life among the people of God and to invite consecrated persons to celebrate the marvels the Lords has done in them, and thereby give witness.
The celebration of this day is a timely and opportune public affirmation of the validity of consecrated life as a life option and of its place in the Church of Jesus Christ.
Each Religious Family surely finds itself drawn to return to its origins and the uniqueness of its identity and charism on occasions such as this. The Second Vatican Council called on all communities to renewal through a constant return to the sources of all Christian life, and stressed that "the spirit and aims of each founder should be faithfully accepted and retained, as indeed should each institute's sound traditions, for all of these constitute the patrimony of an institute" (Perfectae Caritatis,n. 2).
This call was taken up enthusiastically by all, discernment was undertaken, renewal was begun and we are continually invited to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to it.
The Holy Father has offered us elements for reflection that are common to all Religious Families with the awareness that each Founder, and therefore each Religious Family, makes a unique contribution to the fabric of consecrated life and to the building up of the Body of Christ.
In his message for this day in 2008 he reminded us: "the Holy Spirit attracts some people to live the Gospel in a radical way and translate it into a style of more generous following... a religious family is born which with its very presence becomes in turn a living "exegesis" of the Word of God... the succession of charisms in the consecrated life can therefore be read as an unfolding of Christ down the ages, as a living Gospel that is actualized in ever new forms (cf. Lumen Gentium,46).
The mystery of Christ is reflected in the works of Foundresses and Founders, a word of his, an illuminating ray of his radiant Face, the splendour of the Father (cf. Vita Consecrata, n. i6).
Each one of us who lives a consecrated life does so within the spiritual patrimony of his or her own institute, therefore, on occasions like this, I turn to that of which I am a member for renewal. For the Pallottine Family St Vincent Pallotti stressed a complete and total consecration of the self to God, making an oblation of one's whole self. He composed various formulae for commitment but the most striking is the one formulated in 1847, "I surrender, give and offer my whole self and all my possessions to almighty God".
Commenting on this the late Fr Francesco Amoroso, SAC, wrote that this total consecration was "his natural reaction to his growing awareness that no one gives God anything of his own but merely turns to better account what God has given him". Here consecration is seen as the most fitting response to a growing awareness of God's ineffable and infinite love and mercy: St Vincent wrote in his spiritual diary: "I will have no peace until I reach an infinitely perfect love for God, for Jesus Christ... and my infinitely sweet Mother Mary... I die because I do not love!"
Consecration for St Vincent Pallotti was a way of appreciating — in the best way possible — all that one has received from God. His reasoning is clear: "My God, Father of mercies... you deigned to create us in your image and formed us as living images of yourself, Charity in essence... as you gave us all of yourself so too we give you all of ourselves and all we possess for your greater glory and honour and for the salvation of our souls and those of others... and thus I desire to consecrate to you all of myself and all I possess". He reminds us that all I have and all that I am comes from God. I have not given God anything that did not come from him. All is gift. I use what I have received in an optimum way.
This understanding of consecrated life sees it as a gift of the Spirit of God to the Church which affords the individual who is consecrated the opportunity to give expression to his/her vocation and a way and means to living it meaningfully in the world.
St Vincent Pallotti was loath to give his nascent community vows or promises, so convinced was he that the fundamental most pressing reason for consecration is the Love of God, thus he repeated "Caritas Christi urget nos"(2 Cor 5:14).
He chose as the Fundamental Rule for his Union of Catholic Apostolate: "the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ in order to imitate him with all possible perfection in all of his hidden life and in the works of his public evangelical ministry...". His objective is clear and unequivocal: "The life of Jesus Christ is my life... the obedience of Jesus Christ is mine... the fortitude of Jesus Christ is mine". He echoes St Paul in his conviction that "it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20). His consecration led him to make his own what he termed "the principal interior operations of Our Lord Jesus Christ" through contemplation of them with a view to imitating them. The focus of consecration is Jesus through an integral imitation of him in total giving of self to the Father and to others.
Consecrated life is lived in a myriad of forms and manners in the Church and Pope Benedict reminds us of the sources of strength and nourishment for consecrated life that are common to all of us.
He urges us to go to God, to Jesus with trust and confidence in order to "receive mercy" and to "find grace" and to "be helped at the opportune moment".
With this he reminds us that consecrated life "is a school of trust in the mercy of God". St Vincent Pallotti on several occasions described his experience as: "I found myself immersed in an immense sea of divine mercy", God's mercy became the bedrock of his life, it was a "school" in which he knew himself as a subject, his experience of mercy led him ultimately to experience God's infinite love. His experience of the mercy of God whom he addressed as "my mercy", reached its culmination with his conviction that "at every moment I am sure that you transform me into all of yourself, eternal, infinite, immense incomprehensible mercy, O prodigy of mercy, O loving invention of divine mercy, O God, all Mercy". God lavished mercy on him in order to transform him into mercy — for others. God loves us to transform us into love — for others.
Consecration of oneself to God is an ongoing and progressive identification with Jesus Christ.
My confrere Conrad at his jubilee last year said, "Consecrated life is to follow Jesus, I have never followed a person, nor an ideology, nor a movement, I have seen Jesus, experienced his presence and always followed him and him alone". Like St Vincent Pallotti and the other great founders and foundresses it was a case of "God alone, alone, alone, alone. Only God".
The final paragraph of Pope Benedict's Homily gives consolation and strength to consecrated persons who "feel the burden of their daily effort in which there is little human gratification", to the elderly and to the sick, as well as to those who experience difficulties in their apostolate. He assures them that "none of them is useless... they are a precious gift for the Church and the world".
Weekly Edition in English
10 February 2010, page 6
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