Where would we be without the witness of our consecrated women and men?
By Father Timothy Hepner
Presentation of the Lord / Feb. 2
Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24:7,8,9,10; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40
“What would become of the world if there were no religious?” asked St. Teresa of Avila. To which I add, “What would become of the Diocese of Peoria if there were no religious?” We would not have hospitals that faithfully serve the poor and ardently uphold Catholic teaching. We would not have the sisters and brothers that teach in our schools and minister in our Newman Centers. Parishes would lose ministries, outreach to the marginalized would shrink away, places of prayer and retreat would stop existing, and powerful intercessors would vanish. But, most importantly, the unique light enkindled in souls wholly given over to Christ would be snuffed out.
I have heard it said that “we all have vocations,” and therefore we shouldn’t emphasize particular vocations such as consecrated life. My only response is the words of St. John Paul II: “The consecrated life is at the very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission, since it ‘manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling’ and the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse.” We need those in consecrated life not primarily for what they do, but for who they are: Witnesses to what each Christian soul is called to be.
We need those in consecrated life not primarily for what they do, but for who they are: Witnesses to what each Christian soul is called to be.
St. John Paul II instituted World Day for Consecrated Life in 1997 as he saw the religious vocation waning in parts of the Church. He wanted individual Christians to be reminded of the gift that consecrated men and women are to the Church, and he wanted those men and women themselves to be renewed in their identity and mission. And he chose this Sunday, the Presentation of the Lord, because the scene in the Gospel is “an eloquent icon of the total offering of one’s life for all those who are called to show forth in the Church and in the world, by means of the evangelical counsels the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one.”
EVERYTHING CAN BE TRANSFORMED
The first reading, from Malachi, prophesies a day in which the “Lord of Hosts” will come into the temple and purify the offerings being made there. The people of Malachi’s time had fallen into the perennial temptation to give God their useless leftovers rather than their treasured first fruits. They were not giving God their best, and their hearts weren’t in their ritual sacrifices. Hence, “he will purify the sons of Levi, Refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord.”
The presentation of Jesus fulfilled this prophecy. In this unassuming little baby brought into the temple, the Father was receiving the pure offering he desired: Jesus Himself. Jesus lived out his consecration to the Father through his entire life by embracing poverty, chastity, and obedience, and by sacrificing Himself on the cross as the poor, chaste, obedient Son.
All Christians are called to allow the details of our lives, both mundane and exciting, to be taken up into Jesus’ offering on the cross. We do this by making a morning offering, by making our work our “altar,” and by consciously placing our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings on the altar at Mass so that they can be transformed into the Eucharistic sacrifice of Jesus.
This is a beautiful reality that so many Catholics are unaware of. Through our baptism and participation in the Eucharist, nothing in our lives is without meaning. Like straw into gold, everything can be transformed into an offering of love to the Father, in Jesus, through the Holy Spirit.
But those men and women who make vows to live wholly for Jesus through poverty, chastity, and obedience, are signs to the rest of us of our baptismal destiny. I am not a consecrated religious, but I can’t imagine my life without them. My mother was educated by them in Catholic school, I received my best philosophy formation and spiritual direction from Carmelite and Dominican priests, and I am blessed to work side by side with the many religious orders that our bishops have brought to the diocese.
Each baptized soul is espoused to Jesus, but every religious sister or consecrated virgin in our diocese is a bride of Christ walking in our midst. None of us will marry in heaven, but each religious brother shows us what it means to live out our heavenly future in the here and now. And those consecrated souls that are hidden from the rest of us? We are all unknowingly suspended in grace by their secret prayers.
So this week, please offer prayers specifically for more vocations to the consecrated life. If you are blessed to see a sister, brother, monk, nun, or consecrated virgin, thank them for their “yes.” If not, you can go to cdop.org/vocations/consecrated-life and find a list of those serving in the diocese in order to send a letter or email them.
What would the Diocese of Peoria be without consecrated life? Much, much worse off.
FATHER TIMOTHY Hepner is vocation director of recruitment for the Diocese of Peoria. To learn more about vocations, visit comeandfollowme.org or the Office of Priestly Formation at followmepeoria on Facebook.