This week we will give a consideration of what consecrated life teaches about poverty, chastity and obedience — how all can live these no matter their vocation.
By: Rev. Paul Scalia
You will be forgiven if you forgot — or did not even know — that we are in the Year of Consecrated Life. Proclaimed by Pope Francis in 2013, the Year began on November 30, 2014 and concludes on February 2, 2016, the Feast of the Presentation. Unfortunately, this observance seems to have been obscured by other Papal acts: the announcement of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Pope’s visit to the United States and the current Synod on the Family. Add to this the reality that most Catholics do not know what consecrated life is, much less how to celebrate it and you have an unfailing formula for forgetfulness.
Most Catholics might recognize “consecrated life” under the more familiar term of “religious life” — or simply, monks and nuns, brothers and sisters. Consecrated life is the life given explicitly, exclusively and radically to the Lord. It is characterized by vows, habits, cloisters, convents, monasteries and rules of life. At the same time, as much as it needs to be different and apart (after all, consecrated means set aside), consecrated life is really the living out of the Baptismal grace we have all received.
Not all of us can or should enter religious life. But by their radical commitment — by foregoing marriage, family, career, independence and by binding themselves concretely to a rule of life — consecrated men and women call attention to what is normative for all the Baptized: our entire lives should be given to Him. That those in consecrated life do so in a radical manner calls attention to the duty for all of us. Not all of us can or should enter consecrated life. But neither should we think that we are exempt from the demands of our Baptism. Even as we recognize the unique character of consecrated life, we should understand the need to make an analogous commitment in our lives.
The Catechism locates the distinctive feature of consecrated life in the profession of the evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity and obedience.
“It is the profession of these counsels, within a permanent state of life recognized by the Church, that characterizes the life consecrated to God” (CCC 915). Notice: in the profession of the counsels. All Catholics are called to live the counsels according to their state in life: “Christ proposes the evangelical counsels, in their great variety, to every disciple” (CCC 915). Men and women in consecrated life do so in a more radical manner, binding themselves with vows.
Why are the counsels so important? First, because they fight against our fundamental spiritual weaknesses. The wounds of original sin produce in us a disordered desire for possessions, for pleasure and for power. As Saint John puts it, “the lust of the flesh [unchastity] and the lust of the eyes [greed] and the pride of life [disobedience]” (cf. 1 Jn 2:16). The counsels zero our sites on these core wounds to rout the enemies within. More importantly, however, because our Lord Himself was poor, chaste and obedient, He emptied Himself of all glory, gave Himself as the Bridegroom and set aside His own will for the Father’s. The counsels are an imitation of Him and lead to union with Him. Thus we call them evangelical: they come from the Gospel (the Evangelium) and they announce it.
In professing the evangelical counsels, men and women religious remind us of our need to be poor, chaste and obedient in our lives. The poverty of a Missionary of Charity causes us to reflect on whether we are taking simplicity of life seriously. The espousal of a young woman as a bride of Christ reminds us of the spousal nature of Christian life and our need for purity. The obedience of a monk reveals the profound role of obedience in following the One Who said, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (Jn 6:38).
One group in particular benefits from the example of consecrated men and women: the family. It is somewhat fitting that the Year of Consecrated Life intersects with the World Meeting of the Families (the reason for the Pope’s visit to the United States) and the current Synod on the Family. Because the Church lives by way of these two families: the natural family and the religious family. Consecrated men and women live out the counsels as a family — in communities of brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. So also the natural family — father, mother and children — grows in the life of grace by living the counsels exemplified by religious. We know this somewhat already because we have seen so many families fall prey to the seduction of wealth, the scourge of unchastity and the obstinate, rebellious spirit.
Tomorrow on Encourage and Teach, we consider what the consecrated life teaches about poverty.
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