By Sister Maryann Seton Lopiccolo
For many years now, the universal Church has been celebrating World Day For Consecrated Life for members throughout the world. I am sure it is observed in as many ways as there are worshiping communities in different cultures and places throughout the world and within our own diocese.
When we think of consecrated life, most of us think of the familiar and traditional forms of religious life: sisters, brothers, and religious order priests. The presence and influence of these religious may be the reason that many of us are practicing our faith in the Church today.
Yet, we think too narrowly if we confine God’s call to these three ways of saying Yes. In more recent years in the Church, some other forms of consecrated life have either begun or had a rebirth, or new beginning.
Secular institutes are another form of consecrated life in the Church. These are groups of women or men who dedicate themselves to God by professing the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience yet live a hidden life, witnessing to Christian values as a leaven in today’s world. The Diocese of Brooklyn is blessed to have several of these institutes here who add to the life and ministry of the Church.
In post-Vatican II years, the Church has recognized the vocation of consecrated virginity as part of its service and ministry. Originally going back to early Biblical times of vestal virgins in the Temple, these women today are consecrated by the diocesan Bishop to lead lives of chaste celibacy for the sake of God’s kingdom. Their Rite of Consecration draws from the spousal relationship of Jesus and his Church.
With both groups, the members carry on their professional and independent lives, gathering for communal events and other responsibilities to their institutes or diocese.
So, we have all these forms of consecrated life in one Church. How does it all come together? I read a definition of consecrated life once that made a deep impression on me. It says: “Consecrated life is a living reminder in the Church of the invitation to be in love with God.”
Of note, in his 2020 Papal Homily for this celebration, Pope Francis artfully highlights the appeal and value of consecrated life: “You [consecrated men and women] fell in love with Jesus, you saw everything in Him, and enraptured by His gaze, you left the rest behind … religious life is this vision … It means seeing what really matters in life…the consecrated person is one who every day looks at himself or herself and says: ‘Everything is a gift, all is grace.’ ”
So we as the living reminders, ever-growing, ever-changing are not first about our work or accomplishments. No, we are called first and foremost to remember that we are called to be in love with God. So, whichever form we belong to as sisters, brothers, religious priests, secular institutes, consecrated virgins, our first purpose is to be in love with God and to be united by our common call of saying “yes” every day to our lives of presence, Gospel living, and witness.
Staying in love is not always easy. It takes work on everyone’s part; it takes listening, and it takes deep trust that the God who has called us believes in us and loves us more than we can hope or imagine. So let us remember and pray for our members of consecrated life who continue giving witness in the Diocese of Brooklyn by living deeply what it means to be in love with God every day.
Sister Maryann Seton Lopiccolo, S.C., is the episcopal delegate for religious in the Diocese of Brooklyn.