Consecrated life: An insider’s view

December 19, 2014 by

This is Part 1 of Sister Maria Allen’s special message giving an “insider’s view” of religious life today.

 “All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…”

—Ephesians 3:10

Sister Marcia Allen

Sister Marcia Allen

On Nov. 21, 2014, Pope Francis plans to launch a special Year of Consecrated Life ­— to call the whole of the Catholic World to pray with and for the women and men who have committed themselves to that mysterious lifeform we know as “religious life.”

Members of our religious communities and orders are often referred to as sisters or brothers; some orders of men also include priests. In the popular venue sisters are more commonly referred to as “nuns.”

You will be seeing a good deal of fact (and fiction) in the media about what religious life is or should be. What I want to do in the next few issues of The Messenger is give you an insider’s view of the meaning of this life that we call “religious,” and that the Church refers to as “consecrated.”

The heart of the matter is this: The single purpose of the religious life is to know Christ Jesus — both the historical person Jesus, and the Christ of faith into whom all baptized Christians are called. We who are called into the religious life vow that this is the single passion for which we live — to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. This is the fundamental call — a desire to be totally dedicated to that one thing and to live out every moment in response to this call. Wherever we are, whatever happens, this is the single aim — to grow up in every way into Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:15). Every thought, word, action is committed to communicate Christ’s love to the world around us.

So, what we do — the work, the service, the ministry — is all a result of this total dedication. It is the way we respond to the inner movement that is always seeking to know Christ. The love of Christ knows no dimension — neither height nor depth, neither length nor breadth (Ephesians 3: 18). For this reason we are led to give of ourselves in totality. We are willing to lose all, to let go of all, in order to be given to that single thing — the love of Christ that pours itself out into the world. This forms us and reforms us as we mature and adapt in our world.

One example of this passion came in a note from a newly professed Sister who recently returned to her ministry in Georgia after spending a year in Concordia. She reflects on the simple gold ring she received as part of her profession, and on her new life in the “real world:”

It hasn’t been a month yet since I’ve been back in Georgia, but already I understand how difficult it is to maintain a regular prayer life in the midst of ministry obligations and just regular old daily living! The contrast of my Novitiate year and my return to full-time ministry is quite vivid and I often long to have the luxury and the time to just sit and meditate on the goodness of God. I find that God’s goodness is poured out to me through all the students I see each day, all the teachers I encounter, and especially in the one or two minutes I am able to stop, remember who I am and why I am here, and thank God for the opportunity to just be.

A steady reminder to me is my little gold ring. When I look at the ring, I remember that God is in charge (for which I am VERY thankful!), that I am in a very different relationship with Christ now than before, and that who I am and Whose I am pinpoint and steer every decision, every thought, and every action that I make. My little ring brings me back to the reality that I am here for one single purpose: to find God in everyone and everything. It is especially important and calming to me to know that I am joined in this God Quest with all my Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia everywhere. I remember that where one of us is, we all are present.

There is a balance in my life now that I realize was only achieved by my year in Concordia. When I am asked how last year went, I find myself saying, “It was the best year of my life!” And that is really true. The Novitiate year gifted me with the time to delve deeper into myself and begin to remove the unnecessary and focus on improving the necessary. It also deepened my belief that God alone is my “enough,” which put all the evangelical councils of poverty, chastity and obedience into perspective for me. The process began last year and continues now, even in the face of increased obligations and separation from my dear sisters at Manna House. In a sense, being here is a blessing for me. The desire to hold fast to what I was given last year continues to deepen and become a part of my inner being.

I thank God for all that has been given to me and never pass up a chance to gaze at this little gold ring… It centers me for all that I must do and all that I must be. It is, in a very real way, God’s still small voice to me that says, “Never fear… You are mine.”

What we realize in this reflection is her two-fold focus that holds God and all others without distinction in a single whole of complete devotion and love. Her ring, the sign and symbol of her consecration, holds her focus steady.

As a sign it reminds her of what she is about — the mission of active and inclusive love as described by our congregational constitution.

As a symbol it unites her with all others in the circle of life so that she, like Christ, pours unselfish love into the world wherever it is needed. This is a healing and saving love that brings about wholeness — well being and peace.

We religious often receive comments about what we do or do not do, but the plain truth is that this religious consecration is a matter of being.

That idea of being totally given to God through Jesus the Christ changes one internally. The internal transformation that matures over time shows itself in unselfish acts that are inspired by the charism of a particular religious community and described by a Constitution particular to each religious community.

Because of the charism, which is unchanging over time, and the constitution through which a community adapts over time, women and men religious can show signs of change even though their purpose and mission do not change. But more on that later! Suffice it to say for this time that all of us in this religious life are grounded in a single desire: to know Christ Jesus. And that alone is enough!

PART 2 of Sister Marcia’s “insider’s view”on religious life will be published in the January 2015 Messenger.

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