This year is to be along the lines of the Year of the Priest a few years ago or the Year of Faith of more recent memory – a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, this makes it pretty exciting! In Pope Francis’ video message that was viewed at the Vigil to begin the Year of Consecrated Life, he set the stage, “My first words, on this occasion, are of gratitude to the Lord for the precious gift of consecrated life to the Church and to the world. May this Year of Consecrated Life be an occasion for all members of the People of God to thank the Lord, from whom every good comes, for the gift of consecrated life, appreciating it appropriately.” It is the Year OF Consecrated Life and FOR the whole Church.
Much of the content connected with this celebratory Year is directed to Consecrated persons, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something in it for everyone. Since it is the season when we might start thinking about making New Year’s resolutions, I thought the three “aims” of the Year of Consecrated Life might give us food for thought.
Pope Francis issued a letter – his full message – for the Year, issued on November 29, 2014, the eve of the Year and directed to his “Brothers and Sisters in Consecrated Life.” (If you’re interested in reading the whole thing, you can find it here.)
The first aim of the Year of Consecrated life “is to look at the past with gratitude.” (Introduction) In a couple of weeks we will start to see all of the “year in review” programs and news captions. Do we have our own manner of reviewing our year or several years? Do I tend to focus on my mistakes or bad things that happened? Pope Francis starts us off with the disposition of gratitude as we look back. He invites Consecrated persons to claim the richness of their Institute’s history, charism, and action of the Spirit which brings us to the point where we are today.
This is a valuable activity because, as Pope Francis explains, “Recounting our history is essential for preserving our identity, for strengthening our unity as a family and our common sense of belonging. More than an exercise in archaeology or the cultivation of mere nostalgia, it calls for following in the footsteps of past generations in order to grasp the high ideals, and the vision and values which inspired them, beginning with the founders and foundresses and the first communities.” Advent calls us to the same kind of remembering. In the readings of last Sunday, Peter asks us “what sort of person ought you to be?” Looking at our past can help remind us of our goals, values, and ideal, and recognize how we live consistently with this vision and where we might do better.
The second aim of the Year of Consecrated Life gives us some concrete follow-through from the first aim: “This Year also calls us to live the present with passion. Grateful remembrance of the past leads us, as we listen attentively to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church today, to implement ever more fully the essential aspects of our consecrated life.” Recalling those things most important to me, the things innate to my identity, I can claim them as my own (again or for the first time) and live out of them, anew, with passion!
The challenge to Consecrated persons is no less the same for all believers. “For the various founders and foundresses, the Gospel was the absolute rule, whereas every other rule was meant merely to be an expression of the Gospel and a means of living the Gospel to the full…. The creativity of charity is boundless; it is able to find countless new ways of bringing the newness of the Gospel to every culture and every corner of society.” Does this fit into our plan for the New Year? It is a nice idea, but what does it look like? Pope Francis continues,
“Living the present with passion means becoming “experts in communion,”… In a polarized society, where different cultures experience difficulty in living alongside one another, where the powerless encounter oppression, where inequality abounds, we are called to offer a concrete model of community which, by acknowledging the dignity of each person and sharing our respective gifts, makes it possible to live as brothers and sisters….So, be men and women of communion! Have the courage to be present in the midst of conflict and tension, as a credible sign of the presence of the Spirit who inspires in human hearts a passion for all to be one (cf. Jn 17:21).”
As in all things Catholic, there are never two without three! The third aim should come as no surprise: to embrace the future with hope. Hope for the future makes the past both meaningful and bearable, and the passion for the present possible. This is not meant to be a wishful-thinking hope, but a leap of faith. How can I embrace that which is not yet here? Pope Francis explains, “This hope is not based on statistics or accomplishments, but on the One in whom we have put our trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:2), the One for whom “nothing is impossible” (Lk 1:37). This is the hope which does not disappoint; it is the hope which enables consecrated life to keep writing its great history well into the future. It is to that future that we must always look, conscious that the Holy Spirit spurs us on so that he can still do great things with us.” How am I writing my own history? Can I trust in the God for whom all things are possible? If I resolve to the live the present with passion, can I add that next layer of commitment to embrace the future with hope?
The Year of Consecrated Life is just beginning; may the blessings and graces of this Year be enjoyed by you and all People of Good Will!
Sr. Kelly Connors, pm, teaches Canon Law for Saint Joseph’s College Online and is member of the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary.