A Reflection on the Consecrated Life

By Sister MaryAnne,fcJ
A reflection given at Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy
on the World Day of Prayer for the Consecrated Life, 2nd February 2020 

Today the Church prays for us religious women and men. It’s the World Day for Consecrated Life. And it is not a coincidence that today is also the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

In the Gospel for today we remember that the young couple Mary and Joseph bring their little baby boy to be presented to God, to be blessed in the temple, consecrated even … and they meet an older pair – Simeon and Anna, wisdom figures, steeped in prayer and in God. And the encounter blesses all of them. They glimpse God’s hand at work. Their eyes see salvation.

The four adults in this story are not powerful or famous in their time, they are simple human beings who find themselves beholding the extraordinary grace of God in an ordinary-looking, (undoubtedly-cute) baby boy.

In his homily this weekend, Pope Francis says to us:

You too, dear consecrated brothers and sisters, you are simple men and women who caught sight of the treasure worth more than any worldly good.  And so you left behind precious things, such as possessions, such as making a family for yourselves.  Why did you do this?  Because you fell in love with Jesus, you saw everything in him, and enraptured by his gaze, you left the rest behind.

Pope Francis

Fr Brendan Callaghan, Jesuit, and Br Jim Hayes, De La Mennais Brother

Consecrated Life starts with that looking at Jesus, recognising him, falling in love. When this happens to you, then your perspective changes and suddenly all is gift, all things hold in them an opportunity for a deeper understanding of God.

Where do we see Jesus? … in the ordinariness of our lives, in our work, our encounter with people, the challenges we face (and sometimes overcome), our moments of silence and prayer… generally not in any extraordinary event … but by looking, really looking at the ordinary.

The pope continues by saying “Men and women religious, who live to imitate Jesus, are called to bring their own gaze into the world, a gaze of compassion, a gaze that goes in search of those far-off; a gaze that does not condemn, but encourages, frees, consoles; a gaze of compassion.” The pope expects a lot of us … and so we ask for your prayers that we may fulfil this role with joy and integrity. It is a gift, but as we, like you, are human, it can sometimes be challenging.

I’m speaking as if Consecrated Life is a uniform thing and somehow we are all the same. This cannot be further from the truth. Today a few of us have come to Manchester Chaplaincy to spend this day with you. Can I ask all religious in this church to stand up please? Have a little look around. Each of us is a unique human being – with gifts and failings … with different family backgrounds and interests … the thing that unites us is that at one point in our lives we said yes to God.

A group of religious sisters, brothers and priests from the NW of England.

We belong to different religious families – Benedictine, Ignatian, Franciscan, some of us are Apostolic – going out and working in parishes, schools, retreat centres; others are Contemplative – making their homes, their monasteries and convents powerhouses of prayer, and places of hospitality; some of us are Missionaries – witnessing to God’s love in a culture that is not their own.

In recent years here in the NW of England, we have started to meet together across our diversity, and we love it! We love working together, sharing our passion for God’s world and God’s people, collaborating and using our varied gifts. We love coming to a place like this and saying to people hey, we are women and men consecrated to God … nuns, religious sister, brother, priests , missionaries … we have given our life to this … and it is a life of great joy …

We hope that this is an invitation to each of you to look at your own life and vocation. What brings you joy? Where do you encounter God in the ordinariness of your life? How can you help yourself have eyes that see God’s grace, God’s goodness at work in you and around you? Who are you called to be?

Pope Francis finished his homily this weekend by saying to us

Dear brothers and sisters, let us thank God for the gift of the consecrated life and ask for a new way of looking, that knows how to see grace, how to look out for one’s neighbour, how to hope.  Then our eyes too will see salvation.

Pope Francis

I think this is not just an invitation for us consecrated women and men, but an invitation to all of us Christians, followers of Jesus. Let us hear Pope Francis’ invitation again … a little adapted this time:

“Let us thank God for the gift of life, and ask for a new way of looking, that knows how to see grace, how to look out for one’s neighbour, how to hope.  Then our eyes too will see salvation.”