It was the Second Vatican Council which decreed, "From the very beginning of the church men and women have set about following Christ with greater freedom and imitating him more closely through the practice of the evangelical counsels, each in their own way leading a life dedicated to God." It is on this observation that I write in commemoration of the close of the Year of Consecrated Life, which Pope Francis inaugurated on November 30, 2014 (the First Sunday of Advent) and concluded on February 2, 2016 (the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple). Addressing all consecrated people in an Apostolic Letter, His Holiness expressed three aims for this great year: first, “to look to the past with gratitude;” second, “to live the present with passion;” and third, “to embrace the future with hope.” Similarly, he called upon the laity, “who share with them the same ideals, spirit and mission,” and the whole Christian people to become more aware of the gift of consecrated men and women, “heirs of the great saints who have written the history of Christianity.”
Growing up, I was blessed to have been taught, mentored, and befriended by a number of consecrated religious, namely the Sisters of the Resurrection and the Lasallian Brothers. When I arrived at The Catholic University of America, however, my exposure to consecrated religious expanded to include the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans), the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Servant Sisters of Mary Immaculate, and the Pallottines (and their Apostolate Center!), to name a few! As I got to know each of them, I became more aware of the joy and the grace inherent of their living out their respective Order’s charisms and spirituality, be they involving education, service, contemplative prayer, or dogmatic theology. In spite of the differences between each order and the varying reasons each member had for professing, there remains one commonality: desiring to follow Christ and seeking to imitate Him more closely in a life dedicated to God. Of course, there are many ways of doing this— each religious order accomplishes this in accord with its unique spiritual character and gifts— as St. Vincent Pallotti encouraged, “Seek God and you will find God. Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things. Seek God always and you will always find God.”
How one discerns entering religious life does not mean one has to force a change in his or her lifestyle; rather, it an acceptance of who one is and surrendering that to the God so loved since Baptism, thereby consecrating him or herself “more intimately to God’s service and to the good of the Church” (CCC 931). In my own discernment, I have found great relief in this understanding— that I can give myself to God as I am in love and He will help me to focus and purify that love in my heart which is to radiate from every action of Christian living. Similarly, the famed Trappist monk Thomas Merton expressed the relationship between discernment and the discerner:
Discerning vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.
As the Year of Consecrated Life concludes, let us remember that it concerns not only consecrated persons but the entire Church! Where would the Church be without the examples set by Saints Francis and Augustine, Ignatius and Dominic, or Vincent Pallotti and (soon-to-be-Saint) Mother Teresa and repeated in their respective Orders? The Church would no doubt be less effective in its charity and evangelization, as Blessed Pope Paul VI observed, “the ‘salt’ of faith would lose its savour in a world undergoing secularization.” Let us then respond to Pope Francis’s call to give thanks for the incredible work done by religious around the world and for their fidelity to their respective charisms while seeking to draw close to them in times of joy and trial and assisting them in their holy endeavors. Finally, let us continue to pray for God to send more numerous vocations among their ranks: may their discernments be a model for our own, that we may echo the words of the great Carmelite Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, “At last I have found my vocation: My vocation is love.”