The gift of oneself to God, being “consecrated” or set aside wholly for him, belongs to the life of every Christian, because we are all consecrated to the Lord at our Baptism.
We are all called to offer ourselves to the Father, with Jesus and, like Jesus, to make a generous gift of our lives to God whatever our state of life. Nevertheless, from time immemorial, this baptismal consecration has been lived in a special way by Religious, by monks and nuns, and by consecrated laypersons who, with the profession of their vows, belong to God in an exclusive way, presented to him in the temple of his Church.
Totally consecrated to God, you give yourselves to your brothers and sisters, bringing the light of Christ where the darkness is the most impenetrable and spreading hope where discouragement reigns. You are – dear brothers and sisters – the leaven for the growth of a just and fraternal society. You are on the front lines of the whole Church’s commitment to spread the good news of Jesus’ love, to foster Christian education, health care and charity to the neediest on the margins of social life, to promote contemplative prayer, to offer pastoral care, and to advocate for peace and justice in our increasingly beleaguered world.
The Church also relies on you who are consecrated to be living signs of, in the words of Evangelii Gaudium, the “joy of the Gospel which fills the heart and lives of all who encounter Jesus. With Jesus Christ joy is constantly born anew.” Wherever there are consecrated people living authentically, there is joy! On the other side of the coin, we have Pope Francis’ warning. Two years ago, in addressing the Roman Curia, he pointed out 15 “diseases” which he said undermine the ministry of Curia officials. But I think his observation also applies to those living the consecrated life. Under the rubric of “the disease of a lugubrious face,” he aptly described the opposite attitude of one who lacks joy, one who forgets that “there is no holiness in sadness.” In the words of Francis: “Those glum and dour persons who think that to be serious we have to put on a face of melancholy and severity, and treat others – especially those we consider our inferiors – with rigour, brusqueness and arrogance.
In fact, a show of severity and sterile pessimism are frequently symptoms of fear and insecurity. An apostle must make an effort to be courteous, serene, enthusiastic and joyful, a person who transmits joy everywhere he goes. “A heart filled with God is a happy heart which radiates an infectious joy: it is immediately evident! So let us not lose that joyful, humorous and even self-deprecating spirit which makes people amiable even in difficult situations. How beneficial is a good dose of humour!”
As consecrated men and women, we are called to experience and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness; that we need not seek our happiness elsewhere; that our authentic community life increases our joy; and that our total self-giving in service to Jesus and his Church, to families and young people, to the poor and the marginalized, brings us lifelong personal fulfillment.
Ours is to be the joy that comes from following Jesus, the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit. By our witness, we tell the world that joy does not come from amassing possessions, from imposing one’s will on others, or from self-indulgence and pleasure. True joy is born from knowing Christ, from feeling accepted, understood and loved by him, and thus burning with desire to go out in service to others. We all know that while joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of trials and difficulties. Yet, “it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” (Evangelii Gaudium). This firm conviction of being loved by God is at the center of the consecrated vocation.
We also know that joy born of this conviction is contagious. It is infectious. As Francis says, the joy of your encounter with Christ “urges you to share with others the beauty of faith.”
And so I exhort you, remember that the best way to attract those whom the Lord is calling to the consecrated life is to, again in Pope Francis’s words, “infect those who are near you with this joy; and then many people will ask you for the reason and feel the desire to share with you your splendid and enthusing Gospel adventure.”
It is this kind of joy which, down through the centuries, has impelled consecrated men and women to undertake such heroic deeds in their fidelity to the Gospel, their life of prayer and their apostolic works.
+J. Michael Miller CSB
Archbishop of Vancouver
St. Patrick’s Church, Vancouver, February 2, 2017