Bishop at Mass for Consecrated Life: Religious should be men and women who are able to wake up the world

Homily
Feast of the Presentation – Consecrated Life 2015
Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv

February 2, 2015
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Savannah, Georgia

Read Sr. Margaret Downing's closing remarks

My dear Sisters and Brothers:

The bishop brought together all the different Religious Orders and Consecrated Religious to gather in the Cathedral for Evening Prayer.

While they were praying, a fuse blew and all the lights went out.

The Benedictines continued praying from memory without skipping a beat.

The Jesuits began to discuss whether the blown fuse meant they were dispensed from the obligation to pray Evening prayer.

The Franciscan friars and sisters composed a song of praise for God’s gift of brother darkness.

The IHM’s revisited their ongoing debate on light as a significant transmission of Divine Knowledge.

The Carmelites fell into silence and slow breathing.

The Daughters of Charity were already preparing a plan to gather blankets for everybody because the heat was off as well.

And the Mercy Sisters, elected a sister to go down to the basement and replace the fuse.

Can you see how the Church is blessed by the presence of so many Consecrated Religious each bringing their own particular mission and charism to not only the place where they minister but to the whole diocese?

In 1997, Pope St. John Paul the II instituted a day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life. This celebration is attached to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, February 2nd.

This feast is also known as Candlemas Day; the day on which candles are blessed symbolizing Christ who is the Light of the World.
So too, those in consecrated life are called to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to all peoples.

Pope Francis, our first Jesuit Pope, has opened a worldwide Year of Consecrated Life from last November until a year from today.

In addition to the world’s 900,000 vowed sisters, brothers, priests and consecrated virgins, the Years of Consecrated Life is to include all oblates of monastic communities, members of Third Orders, associates of religious communities and members of secular institutes.

Most Catholics do not officially belong to any of the groups but they have benefited from the life and ministry of vowed religious in schools, parishes, hospitals, evangelization in our country and countries around the world.

Vowed religious are also prayerful witnesses of female and male contemplative communities. In various ways, those in Religious Life all help Catholics and other Christians live out their Baptism.

Regarding Consecrated Life, Pope Francis believes that “Religious Life ought to promote growth in the Church by way of attraction.” He says, “The Church must be attractive. Wake up the world! Be witness of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living!”

It is possible to live differently in this world! Religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way. Religious should be men and women who are able to wake up the world.

The Holy Father expects us Religious to be real witnesses of a world of doing and acting differently.

I believe that we Religious must never give up prophesying and never give up challenging the world to embrace the ‘joy of the gospel’.

There is no doubt that we are living and experiencing some very dramatic events in the life of the Church; some of them joyful, some horribly tragic, and some quite unpredictable. But all of them have affected us, individually and communally.

As we read the Acts of the Apostles, we are enlightened by the first religious community of the early church. We are challenged by their willingness to be radical in their new life together, taking care of each other; especially those who could not take care of themselves.

We are reminded of the generosity of the members of their community and their complete surrender of their material possessions for the greater good and welfare of the community. Each member was to pledge their commitment as Disciples of Christ and live and preach and teach the “joy of the gospel”.
Is it a coincidence that we have a pope by the name of Francis? Oddly enough, a Jesuit missionary from South America? He has certainly caught the attention of people from all faith traditions.

His personal experience as a religious has caused many of us to question our own living of the evangelical councils. The last pope who belonged to a religious order was Gregory XVI in 1831.

As we read in the Acts of the Apostles, the early communities of the church were founded first as an answer to some needs in the Church, and they became religious communities in order to foster and give greater stability to their particular ministry.

A similar thing is happening today and we are an example of it. With a renewed awareness of our Order’s charism and in response to the gospel mandate to espouse a preferential option for the poor, we are focusing on a specific work of the Church to “wake up the world” and live a way of life needed to support it.

In some cases, this implies that we will chose to live in a specific way that will enable us to live closer to the people we serve and make possible deeper relationships among the Religious with whom we live.

The challenge in adapting to new understandings of religious life and mission as we move forward is to preserve what is essential to community life.

Paul VI believed that “whatever their size, communities large or small will not succeed in helping their members unless they are constantly animated by the Gospel spirit, nourished by prayer and distinguished by generous mortification of our old self, by the discipline necessary for forming our new self and by the fruitfulness of the sacrifice of the Cross.”

Community life, as we know, is meant to be a support and a sign of consecrated life. Nonetheless, as we also know, many Religious experience the same human difficulties of living together as all other people. Community life is a constant challenge. Differences in age, outlook, values, ministry, ecclesiology and health all contribute to the diversity of members within a community. While this diversity can be a richness of human experience, it can also cause divisions and alienation within the community.

Pope Francis was asked, “How can Religious keep commitments to an apostolate as well as those of community life?” “How can we combat the tendency toward individualism? How should we act toward sisters and brothers in difficulty or who live or create conflict? How can we combine justice and mercy in difficult cases?

Pope Francis said that “community life has an enormous power to call people together. The illnesses of the community, on the other hand, have power that destroys. The temptation against common life is that which is the most disruptive to progress in consecrated life. Sometimes living in community is difficult, but if it is not lived it is not productive. Work, even that which is 'apostolic' can become an escape from community life.

“Religious Life, continued the pope, with all its possible diversity, is an experience of love that goes beyond conflicts. Community conflicts are inevitable: in a certain sense they need to happen, if the community is to truly sustain sincere and honest relationships. That's life. It does not make sense to think of living in a community in which there are sisters or brothers who are not experiencing difficulties in their lives. Something is missing from communities where there is no conflict. Conflict must be faced head on; it should not be ignored. Covering it over just creates a pressure cooker that will eventually explode. A life without conflicts is not life.”

Religious who live together in a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation, in peace and harmony, give “gospel witness” to the Church and to the world which is sorely needed.

In the early church, Stephen boldly spoke the truth and he suffered martyrdom for it. It was upon his courage and blood that the church began to grow. It was his martyrdom and thousands that have followed that have continued to “wake up the world” to the redemptive mission of the Church. Many of the martyrs who have died for the faith have been our sisters and brothers... named and unnamed. They have set the bar for those of us who follow after them.

Those of us who have benefited from the guidance, instruction, discipline, example, spirituality, tough love, prayer, education, formation and affection of Religious men and women, have an opportunity during this Year of Consecrated Life to demonstrate our appreciation, in some significant way, for what they have given to us personally and collectively as a diocese.

Some will say about the Sisters, Brothers and Priests: “they don’t make them like that anymore!” and that may be true. But we are the witnesses and beneficiaries of their commitment and dedication.

What can we do to propagate the Faith? How can we show our gratitude? How can we pass on what we have learned and experienced from these special servants of God who have come into our life, even for a short time?

I believe that it can be said that the first Religious Community to arrive in what is now called the Diocese of Savannah, were the Jesuits. Padre Pedro Martinez became the first Georgia martyr; killed on Cumberland Island in 1566.

The Franciscan Friars succeeded the Jesuits. Five Franciscan Friars were martyred on September 13, 1597.

Thank you to those Religious women and men who have shared their vocation of Consecrated Life throughout the history of the Diocese of Savannah:

- Glenmary Home Missioners and Sisters
- Sisters of Charity of our Lady of Mercy
- Ursuline Sisters
- Sisters of Atonement
- Sisters of Charity
- Sisters of Our Divine Savior
- Sisters of St. Joseph
- Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet
- Sisters of St. Mary de Namur
- Missionaries of St. Paul
- Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity
- Oblate Fathers of Mary Immaculate
- Paulist Fathers
- Sisters of Mercy - Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament
- Sisters of the Sacred Heart
- Society of Jesus
- Congregation of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People
- Society of African Missions
- Society of Mary
- Sulpicians
- Benedictine Monks
- Redemptorists
- Salvatorians
- Third Order of St. Francis
- Trinitarians
- Trappists
- Daughters of Charity - Franciscan Friars Capuchins
- Franciscan Friars Minor
- Franciscan Friars Conventual
- Carmelite Sisters
- Christian Brothers
- Franciscan Sisters
- Holy Cross Brothers
- Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters
- Marists Brothers - Vincentians
- Sisters of Charity
- Order of St. Camillius

 

Keep them in prayer.


Closing remarks by Sr. Margaret Downing, delegate for Consecrated Life for the Diocese of Savannah

To be consecrated is to be made a vessel for the holy; not to be holy in oneself, but to be invited to the disciplines and given the Gifts needed to focus on God before and beyond all things.

My own experience of living a consecrated life has been one of joy, most of the time. I do not mean that it has been a life without struggles, disappointments, and failure. I mean that when those things happen, I always know that God's love sustains me and that the people of God recognize the radical willingness and the conviction of those who live religious life. By and large, my sisters and brothers are determined to allow God to use us even when we do not understand how that is true.

Simeon lived such a life. I like to think of his joy as he saw the infant he had lived in expectation of. I hear him blessing the child and his parents, warning them, yes, that the life ahead would have its difficulties, but rejoicing in fulfillment of a promise.
 
My reflections on consecrated life and those who live it, imperfect as we all are, is one of immense blessing. I share my reflections with you.
 
Blessed are those who are unafraid to witness to the joy of the Gospel Message by their lives, for their joys are multiplied.
 
Blessed are those who chose a life without spouse or children, and find their relationships instead among the poor and the little ones, so that they can be available to those who need a mother, father, sister or brother; for God shall be the center of their lives.
 
Blessed are those who are convinced of the immensity of God's love for all people. They know the truth.
 
Blessed are those who withstand the temptation to rail at perceived injustice, to despair when the future looks bleak, these save their energy for the inequities which others experience and will eventually be vindicated.
 
Blessed are they who find joy in small things and teach others the value of the widow's mite, others will recognize their humility and simplicity.
 
Blessed are they who make prayer their priority, for God enfolds them in love.
 
Blessed are those who continue to serve the poor, the sick, the children, even when the supports they count on fall through and their work seems unappreciated.  They have a freedom of spirit denied to those who are successful as our world judges success.
 
Blessed are those who age with dignity and share their wisdom, for they are allowed to share the fruits of their lives in God.
 
Blessed are they who seek to renew themselves in the spirit of their founders, and bring those dynamic understandings to the present circumstances: they can awake the world.
 
It is a blessing to be among you today, and on behalf of my brothers and sisters, I thank you for joining in this liturgy. I thank Bishop Hartmayer for making this Eucharistic celebration a priority early in this year of Consecrated Life. Let us consciously work at being those vessels of the holy, which eventually become transparent so that all others see is God.

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