My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
This weekend, on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we celebrate World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life. Inaugurated in 1997 by Blessed John Paul II, we have the opportunity as the Church around the world to pray for our religious men and women who live in consecrated life. The theme for the day is a simple one, “Blessed.”
Truly we are blessed by the presence of many religious among us, and they are blessed for having taken the responsibility of living the evangelical councils of poverty, chastity and obedience with great love and dedication.
In years past, we have celebrated this day in various ways. This Sunday, Feb. 2, we will celebrate it at the 10:30 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James where all the religious of the Diocese here in Brooklyn and Queens are invited to gather and renew their vows during the celebration of the Eucharist.
In our own Diocese, we have been blessed by many woman and men religious. The religious women number approximately 800, while the religious priests and brothers number approximately 250. We are also blessed by new forms of religious life.
What is different about religious life? How is religious life different to the life of a secular or diocesan priest? The difference lays in a word called charism, a Greek word that means “a special gift.” Religious are given special gifts for various types of apostolic work, gifts such as preaching, education, health care, religious education, social service, retreat work and many other specialized ministries. Many religious men in our own Diocese staff parishes as well as carry out education missions such as the Vincentians at St. John’s University, the Franciscan Brothers at St. Francis College and many other communities of brothers who work in our Diocese.
Recently, at the end of November, 2013, Pope Francis met with the organization of religious superiors general. What had begun as a brief visit turned out to be a three-hour question and answer period where the Holy Father, in his unique style, made known what he believed religious life should be in the world today.
Pope Francis, who is a religious, perhaps can speak better than anyone regarding the mission of religious in the world today. He said, “The Church, therefore, must be attractive. Wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living! It is possible to live differently in this world.”
In many ways, he is speaking in an evangelical radicalness, which he said is not only for religious but is demanded of everyone. Religious, however, are called to be prophetic in the living out of the evangelical councils of poverty, chastity and obedience which allow them uniquely to live a more radical lifestyle, not to be concerned about many things except the teachings of Jesus that we find in the Gospel.
Pope Francis went on to speak about the relationship between the local Churches and religious orders. The Bishop is responsible in his own diocese for all of the apostolic work undertaken either by secular clergy or the religious orders. That responsibility is one that needs to be exercised in dialogue with all. This is how the Holy Father characterized what he felt needed to be a more profound sense of collaboration between bishops and religious congregations and orders.
In our own Diocese, I have a yearly dialogue with the religious superiors of both the men and women who are ministering in Brooklyn and Queens. Shortly after my arrival here 10 years ago, I began a Council of Religious where religious men and women, our sisters, brothers and priests, gather quarterly to discuss issues that effect their life and ministry in the Diocese. These religious make suggestions to me, and I am able to meet with them and respond to any suggestions or issues that arise. Personally, I have found these meetings to be very useful to the process of dialogue and especially in resolving any issues that might influence the work of our religious in Brooklyn and Queens.
Formation: A Work of Art
The Holy Father also spoke to the religious about the formation of young religious and seminarians. He said, “Formation is a work of art, not a police action.” How true this is. A statement the Pope made, which has since been taken out of context, was, “We must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the People of God. This really gives me goose bumps.”
In a very down to earth way, Pope Francis states his opinion that young religious and young seminarians need to be molded in the art of service and love. Otherwise, as he continues to remind us, a spirit of clericalism, which can be both male and female, can destroy the good work initiated by religious and secular priests.
New Religious Communities
Our own blessings in the Diocese of Brooklyn come by the presence of the many religious women and men who minister among us. They all have their own charisms and exercise them with great distinction. Recently, we have been blessed by the presence of what might be called new religious communities, where men and women work together, including priests, consecrated religious sisters and lay volunteers. They minister together in particularly challenging areas.
One of these groups is known as the Koinonia John the Baptist and has been given responsibility in the Parish of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. This is a rather difficult assignment. Their community was particularly tested during Superstorm Sandy. However, because of the community they share, they have shown a remarkable ability to make a difference, where in the past, a single priest could not do what was needed there.
Another example is the community called Heart’s Home, which ministers at the old St. Edward’s Parish in the Fort Greene area of Brooklyn. Originally a French foundation, they have come to the U.S. and work especially with the many marginalized homebound people and also have a special ministry to artists.
The Church is truly blessed by the presence of consecrated men and women who have put out into the deep by consecrating their lives to Christ and following the evangelical councils.
This World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life gives us an opportunity to pray for them, thanking the Lord for their service and thanking them individually for their lives and concern for all of us.