In my lifetime, I have had the amazing opportunity to know women in consecrated religious life. A handful of my friends have entered religious life and are happily persevering in their respected communities. As a [newly-ordained] priest, I have had the opportunity to say Mass for countless sisters, some active, while others are confined to the cloister. Such active orders include the Missionaries of the Word (Bailey’s Harbor, WI) and the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist (Chicago, IL); and for the cloistered, the Discalced Carmelites at the Holy Name of Jesus Monastery (Denmark, WI) and the Poor Clare Colettine Nuns at Corpus Christi Monastery (Rockford, IL). Presently, where I serve as parochial vicar in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, I celebrate Mass twice a week for the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother. Our parish uses their conventual Mass as our daily Mass for three of the five days since they are right across the street.
I love consecrated religious. I often tell people, if I need to be renewed spiritually, I simply need to go away to a convent of sisters, and I’ll immediately be renewed. As I have noticed this trend in my own spiritual life, I have questioned why that is. Here are five reasons why I love consecrated religious:
They Are In Love!
The consecrated religious I know are in love. They know Jesus as their spouse and they live every minute of every day striving to love Him in all they do. If you have met some of the younger sisters in our Church, they radiate joy. Joy overflows from their love of Christ. They not only love the Lord, but they love the Church, her teachings, and her members. They also love the priestly vocation. Why? Because they understand it is from the hands of the priest that Christ comes to us in the Eucharist; and from the priest’s ministry that Christ forgives sins in the confessional. I have been overwhelmed by the love consecrated religious exude over the priestly vocation, that sometimes I wonder if they love my vocation more than I do; and I love my vocation and ministry a lot!
They Have Made Great Sacrifices
Members of religious communities sacrifice more than I do as a diocesan priest. I have the comfort and luxury of being in a geographic area where I grew up. I am within driving distance of my family and friends, who I can visit regularly and stay in touch with via phone, text, email, or Facebook. For my friends who have joined the convent, they undergo their postulancy and novitiate during which they cannot make home visits for a set amount of time. They leave their home state, and sometimes their home country, to follow the call God placed on their hearts. In my vocation, whenever I think I have it rough, I recall the sacrifices consecrated religious have made in order to follow their call. Their sacrifice of home and family inspires me.
They Remind Us Of Mary
The post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, proposes that consecrated religious model their life on the example of Mary. After all, Mary consecrated her life to God at a young age, and unreservedly said yes to God’s will in her life at the Annunciation. Consecrated religious imitate Mary in the world today by their surrender to God’s will. In their prayer lives, they quietly reflect on the Word of God, treasuring it in their hearts. I love consecrated religious, because the lives they lead remind me of Mary. In many ways, they are a continuation of Mary’s presence in the world today.
They Are Spiritual Mothers
Parenthood in our world today is under attack. Families are broken. Sometimes people in our world do not experience the love and affection they need. Or maybe their family has not handed on the faith to them, and so they need some guidance in spiritual matters. One of my friends on Facebook recently commented that whenever he sees a consecrated religious in the airport, someone is often seeking counsel. When people see a consecrated person, they see a person who has dedicated their life to God and because of this they trust them. Consecrated women are spiritual mothers because they love all of God’s children, and desire the best for them, and so they pray earnestly for conversion. They want all people to enjoy a relationship with God.
They Are Signs of Heaven
Jesus tells us that in Heaven there is no marriage. That is why the celibate state reminds of the eternal kingdom to come where neither marry nor are given in marriage. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “In the consecrated life, Christ’s faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit, propose to follow Christ more nearly, to give themselves to God who is loved above all and, pursuing the perfection of charity in the service of the Kingdom, to signify and proclaim in the Church the glory of the world to come” (916). Not only do the religious proclaim the kingdom of Heaven by their lives, but it also “witnesses to the fact of a new and eternal life acquired by the redemption of Christ, but it foretells the future resurrection and the glory of the heavenly kingdom” (Lumen Gentium, 44). By making vows of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience, consecrated religious show forth what truly matters in life, namely God. They remind us life is not about material possessions, because the world is passing away. Their simple lives witnesses to the reality of Heaven and the ultimate goal of life–eternal life. Truly, they serve as icons of Heaven.
Pope Francis called for a Year of the Consecrated Life. Not only is it a year for those in the consecrated life to examine how they live their lives, but it is a year for the people of God to give thanks for the consecrated religious who have been a part of their lives. I give thanks for consecrated religious in my life because their witness encourages me to be a better Christian. I am constantly moved by their love of God the many sacrifices they make. They truly are Mary in the world today and icons of Heaven.
image: Wolfgang Sauber / Wikimedia Commons