On Feb. 7 we celebrated the jubilees of the Religious who minister in our diocese. The 12 women who were honored at that Mass and luncheon represent 675 years of ministry as publicly vowed women Religious in the Church.
It would be staggering to list what these seven centuries of service have accomplished for those who benefitted from the labors of these Sisters. Seventy, 60, 50 and 25 anniversaries of Religious Profession for these 12 women and each of them continues to serve and give witness to Christ as a Consecrated Religious. Yes, that includes the Sister who is celebrating her platinum anniversary (70 years!).
This year the Church is celebrating the Year of Consecrated Life, which began on the first Sunday of Advent, this past Nov. 30, and will conclude on the World Day of Consecrated Life, Feb. 2, 2016.
As our Vicar General, Father Robert Hughes, said when he offered a toast to our Jubilarians: “Each of us has been influenced by Religious to whom we are grateful and indebted.”
I invite you to join me in recognizing the gift these women are to the Church, to our diocese, to society and to each one of us. During this Year of Consecrated Life, do something nice for a Religious woman or man. Show your appreciation and gratitude for who they are; for what they do and for what they represent. I would like to share a few remarks from the homily I preached at our diocesan celebration of Consecrated Life:
Permit me to express sincerest congratulations to our Jubilarians and to thank them for the 675 years of Religious life that they are celebrating in 2015. Thank you, jubilarians, for your ministries and apostolates which have been and are invaluable to the Church and to the world. Thank you for responding to the Lord’s call; for following Him as a Religious, thank you for these jubilee years of living your Religious consecration.
In the letter to the Hebrews (13.15) a phrase is used by the sacred author that for me expresses and summarizes what your years of professed public vowed life have been about. The letter speaks of “A sacrifice of praise.” The expression in Hebrews refers to the sacrifices that were offered in the Temple — lambs, bullocks, doves. The gifts offered to God. They were offered as a “sacrifice of praise.”
Jesus redefined sacrifice. One’s life can become worship of God, a sacrifice of praise. I suggest that for our celebration of jubilees of Religious the phrase refers to the gift of yourself: the gift of faithful service; the gift of your vowed witness through the evangelical councils of poverty, chastity and obedience; the gift of your Religious community; the gift of the charism of your foundress as you enflesh it and make it present in yourself and through yourself in your Institute. I use the phrase to acknowledge the offering of your life, who you are and who you continually become in Christ, a sacrifice of praise. Each of you, our Jubilarians whom we honor today, you are a sacrifice of praise.
Your special anniversary (silver, golden, diamond or platinum) provides a measuring stick of these years of consecration, a look back and a look forward, a time for an accounting of your years of Religious profession.
Notice that when the Apostles of Jesus return from their mission they report about their mission to Jesus. The evangelist Mark writes: “The Apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught” (Mark 6.30). He had sent them on the mission. They returned and give Him an accounting. They report on their activities.
Your anniversary is an occasion for you to do the same, to give an accounting to Christ, to yourself, to your Religious family and to the Church. Tell us about the mission of these past years on which the Lord has sent you. Let your story be known.
Your Jubilees are occurring during this year of grace for Religious, the Year of Consecrated Life, which began on the first Sunday of this Advent, Nov. 30, 2014, and will continue until Feb. 2, 2015.
The Holy Father has called for this Year to give thanks for the gift of consecrated life, and indeed it is a gift. The whole Church is invited to give thanks for the Gift. I am delighted that there are efforts in our diocese to encourage our local Church to know more about the Gift as it is lived by consecrated women and men in our diocese, to bring the gift of Religious Life before our people.
I thank the members of the Committee for the Year of Consecrated Life. The features about Religious Life in our diocesan newspaper and on the diocesan web are the result of their work. And I have been told of other events being planned. I suspect there are similar efforts in your Religious communities.
Too many in the Church are unaware of Religious Life. We have a job to do to get the message out, to help the faithful and others become more aware of the beauty and the gift of Religious life. There are a variety of reasons that it is unknown. This Year of Consecrated Life offers a graced moment to change that. We need to seize it to get our message out.
Our people have as much a hunger for God in our time as in the past. Notice in St. Mark’s Gospel that the people pursue the apostles and Jesus when they were seeking rest. They hastened on foot in pursuit of the Lord and his Apostles. Jesus says about them: “They are like Sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6.34). Our people seek shepherding. Religious can respond to that need. You are called to be shepherdesses and shepherds.
The Year of Consecrated Life marks the 50th anniversary of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, and the 50th anniversary of the decrees on the renewal of Religious life, Perfectae Caritatis. Chapter 6 of Lumen Gentium speaks of Religious Consecration. The decree Perfectae Caritatis is the document of Vatican II that encouraged and called for the renewal of Religious life. I suggest that both of these should be re-read, reflected upon and considered during this, your Jubilee year.
The Holy Father, in calling for the Year of Consecrated Life, was very clear about the challenges that each Religious family has faced and the need to examine your fidelity to the mission of your community as your foundresses organized the mission and to the charism of the community.
In the Apostolic Letter that announces the Year of Consecrated Life, the Holy Father says that the year is to look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion and to embrace the future with hope. Those are the goals, to which Pope Francis adds to do so with joy, to radiate joy which should distinguish the consecrated Religious.
The logo used for this year of Consecrated Life contains the phrase, “Wake up the World,” which comes from an address of Pope Francis to Religious. It is a reminder that Religious are called to a prophetic role in the Church and in the world. Prophets are in communion with God and they do not fear the consequence of what they say. Or what they do. Prophets can be challenging and even bothersome but they are needed.
The Holy Father also calls Religious to a spirituality of Communion with one another. Communion is charity, charity among the sisters and the brothers among the different institutes.
Jubilarians, you give us much reason to celebrate. Congratulations and thank you. The letter from the Hebrews concludes with these words which express our prayer and sentiments for you during your Jubilee Year: “May the God of peace furnish you with all that is good and may he carry out in you what is pleasing to Him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13.21).