Bishop Hartmayer at Mass closing the Year for Consecrated Life: A grateful remembrance of the past leads us, to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church today

St. Peter Claver Catholic Church | Macon, GA

Mass for the Closing of the Year for Consecrated Life
Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv

January 23, 2016
St. Peter Claver Parish
Macon, Georgia

My dear brothers and sisters,

For me, it was 47 years ago. I was 17 years old. Twenty-four of us processed into the Novitiate chapel wearing black suits, white shirt and black tie.
One by one, we approached the Minister Provincial, we removed our black suit jacket and black tie and we were invested in a black tunic, capuche and a white cord with three knots was put around our waist.

The Minister Provincial said to me: “In the world you were known as Gregory but from now on you will be known as Friar Gregory.” Some of the 24 chose to change their names to further signify their taking off the “old man” and putting on a “new man”; “… being in the world but not of the world.”

It was a very moving ceremony especially for our parents and family who were not quite sure what we were getting into but neither were we!

We became novices for a year and a day.  We would spend every night for the next year and a day in that Novitiate.

What was that experience like for you? Your first day and months of Religious Life?  After our professions of vows, we began to live a life of Consecrated Life dedicated to God, to live the life of the Gospel and to follow the Rule of Life of our foundress or founder.

This past year, Pope Francis declared a Year of Consecrated Life on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, which speaks of religious in its sixth chapter, and of the Decree, Perfectae Caritatis on the renewal of religious life.

In declaring the “Year for Consecrated Life”, Pope Francis quotes St. John Paul II in writing to the Religious when he wrote: “You have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished! Look to the future, where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things.”

In bringing this special Year for Consecrated Life to an end; we need to spend a little time looking at the past with gratitude.

All our Institutes are heir to a history rich in charisms.  At their origins we see the hand of God who, in his Spirit, calls certain individuals to follow Christ more closely, to translate the Gospel into a particular way of life, to read the signs of the times with the eyes of faith and to respond creatively to the needs of the Church.

This initial experience then matured and developed, engaging new members in new geographic and cultural contexts, and giving rise to new ways of exercising the charism, new initiatives and expressions of apostolic charity. Like the seed which becomes a tree, each Institute grew and stretched outs its branches.

Recounting our history is essential for preserving our identity, for strengthening our unity as a family and our common sense of belonging.

More than an exercise in archaeology or the cultivation of mere nostalgia, it calls for following in the footsteps of past generations in order to grasp the high ideals and the vision and values which inspired them, beginning with the founders and foundresses and the first communities.

A grateful remembrance of the past leads us, as we listen attentively to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church today.

The question we have to ask ourselves is IF and HOW we are open to being challenged by the Gospel and whether the Gospel is truly the “manual” for our daily living and the decisions we are called to make.

The Gospel is demanding; it demands to be lived radically and sincerely.  It is not enough to read it, nor is it enough to meditate on it.  Jesus asks us to practice it, to put his words into effect in our lives.

We have to ask ourselves: Is Jesus really our first and only love, as we promised he would be when we professed our vows?  Only if he is, will we be empowered to love, in truth and mercy, every person who crosses our path.

As religious women and men today, we are called to embrace the future with hope.  We all know too well the difficulties which the various communities of consecrated life are currently experiencing: decreasing vocations and aging members and the rising cost of senior care.

But it is precisely in these uncertainties that we are called to practice the virtue of hope, the fruit of our faith in the Lord of history, who continues to tells us, “Be not afraid... for I am with you.”

This hope is not based on statistics or accomplishments, but on the One in whom we have put our trust, the One for whom “nothing is impossible”. This is the hope which does not disappoint; it is the hope which enables consecrated life to keep writing its great history well into the future. It is to that future that we must always look, conscious that the Holy Spirit spurs us on so that he can still do great things with us.

Pope Francis exhorts us, “do not yield to the temptation to see things in terms of numbers and efficiency and even less to trust in your own strength.  In scanning the horizons of your lives and the present moment, be watchful and alert.  Do not join the ranks of the prophets of doom who proclaim the end or meaninglessness of the consecrated life in the Church in our day; rather clothe yourselves in Jesus Christ and put on the armor of light.”

The second reading today reminds us that it is “the love of Christ that impels us”. “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.  And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself.”

Paul goes on to say, “So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God was appealing through us.”

And so, as we reflect upon this past year dedicated to those in consecrated life, did we “Wake up the World” as Pope Francis asked us to do?

I do believe that the imperative is ongoing.  The call for us to “Wake up the World” is to continue for generations to come.

God told Abram to “go forth from your land, your relatives and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.” We are still on that journey following the call of our foundresses and founders who took the call seriously... and we are still following that call.

As we bring this “Year for Consecrated Life” to a close, we have already entered a “Holy Year of Mercy”. We are reminded to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, pray for those who mistreat us.  For if we love those who love us, what credit is that?

During this “Holy Year of Mercy”, we, as consecrated men and women, can lead the way and be merciful just as our God is merciful and make the Church a home for the “homeless and a school of communion for those who feel excluded.

We women and men Religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way. In the “Year of Mercy”, let us continue to “Wake up the World” to a profound awareness of God’s infinite love and mercy and a deeper commitment to serve one another.

My brothers and sisters, you have the gratitude of the Diocese for your faithful witness, your years of service and your commitment to the Gospel Life.