By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special to the Bulletin | Published January 9, 2015
ATLANTA—Consecrated women and men whose sole aim is to dedicate their lives seeking freedom in Christ and embodying his perfect love are the focus of the Year of Consecrated Life, proclaimed by Pope Francis at the end of 2014, at a crucial time in humanity’s history.
Many people within and outside the church are familiar with Pope Francis’ intimate and urgent appeal for renewal of the church and society. Who best to illustrate the different ways of responding to profound needs in today’s world than those living the consecrated life—who free themselves for service and prayer by embracing Christ’s lifestyle of poverty, chastity and obedience and the call to emulate his perfect love?
The Holy Father proclaimed 2015 a Year of Consecrated Life, starting on the First Sunday of Advent, the weekend of November 30, 2014, and ending on February 2, 2016, the World Day of Consecrated Life. The year also marks the 50th anniversary of Perfectae Caritatis, a decree on religious life, and Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Church. Its purpose, as stated by the Vatican, is to “make a grateful remembrance of the recent past” while embracing “the future with hope.”
In Atlanta, Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Margaret McAnoy, who serves as vicar for religious for the archdiocese, sees the year as “a call to listen, a call to joy.”
“It’s so appropriate, particularly for these days. The vast majority of people don’t know sisters or brothers or consecrated women unless they minister at a school or a parish nearby.”
According to Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, in his “Rejoice! A Letter to Consecrated Men and Women,” all Christians are called to leave everything to follow the Lord. Consecrated women and men, he explained, pursue this “evangelical radicalness” in a “special way, a prophetic way.”
His letter invites Catholics to active listening of the Gospel and initiates an examination of their lives in light of it “… with the desire and the intention of making courageous evangelical decisions leading to revitalization, bearing fruits of joy.”
This comes at a historical moment, the Holy Father contends. “The crisis of meaning of the modern person and the economic and moral crisis of western society and its institutions are not temporary phenomena of the times in which we live but they outline an historical moment of outstanding importance. We are called now, as the Church, to go outside in order to arrive at the margins, geographic, urban and existential—the margins of the mystery of sin, pain, injustice and misery—to the hidden places of the soul where each person experiences the joys and sufferings of life.”
In an interview with Italian journalist Antonio Spadaro (and repeated in the “Letter to Consecrated Men and Women”), Pope Francis expressed his hope that consecrated life (sometimes referred to as religious life) will “wake the world up.”
“In their finite humanity, on the margins, in their everyday struggles, consecrated men and women live out their fidelity, giving reason for the joy that lives in them.”
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, reflected on this yearlong opportunity. “Our brothers and sisters in Christ living consecrated lives make great contributions to our society through a vast number of ministries,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “They teach in our schools, take care of the poor and the sick and bring compassion and the love of Christ to those shunned by society; others lead lives of prayer in contemplation for the world.”
Sister McAnoy expressed her excitement about the general focus on consecrated life. “This year, hopefully consecrated men and women will put themselves out there a little and let the laity know all about them,” she said, adding, “There’s such a variety among us, such beauty. We don’t all walk the same way or talk the same way. Our actions, languages, social interactions are all different according to the calls we’re answering.”
Within the diversity, however, is their common dedication. “We are men and women living the Gospel wherever the Gospel might need to be lived.”